HHC vs delta-9: What's the difference?

HHC and delta-9 share many similarities, but what differences make them unique?
HHC vs delta-9: What's the difference?
minute read

It seems like every week, a new type of hemp product appears on the marketplace. It’s a frequent reminder that the world of science and research is in full swing, and we’re always just one step away from a game-changing discovery.

Recently, a compound has emerged from the scientific frontier that we think is worth a closer look. It’s called hexahydrocannabinol (HHC), and it’s similar in structure to some of the phytochemicals you’re already familiar with in hemp. In fact, many are saying it’s similar to delta-9 THC, which is the best-known cannabinoid responsible for producing psychoactive effects.*

So, now that the word is out about HHC, we’re here to give you the scoop about its story and see how it stacks up against the time-tested delta-9 THC. 

We’ll look at these compounds and their structures, their interactions with the body, and the potential benefits you can expect from using them. We’ll also offer some recommendations for products and use cases that will ensure you get the most from your hemp lifestyle, wherever you are in the journey. 

What is HHC?

Hexahydrocannabinol might sound like a relatively recent entry into the world of hemp research, but it was first discovered in 1947. While the name might not sound familiar and lack the “delta” moniker like other forms of THC, this compound has many similarities to THC variants, including delta-9.*

For starters, HHC is a naturally occurring cannabinoid, just like its THC cousins and cannabinoid relative cannabidiol (CBD). It derives its unusual name from the shape of its molecular structure, which lacks doule bonds. During the conversion process of THC to HHC — any remaining bonds are broken, leaving HHC with hydrogen atoms instead.

While this change is subtle, it has major implications for how HHC interacts with the body and the effects it can cause. Although research around HHC had slowed down for many years, the legalization CBD and the general movement of hemp acceptance has made space for renewed interest and more discovery. 

How does HHC affect the body?

HHC affects the body in a similar way to other cannabinoids, by interacting with the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and its network of neurotransmitters. The ECS is widespread and highly varied, with high concentrations of receptors in the brain and many others scattered throughout various organs and parts of the body.*

HHC doesn’t just target a single receptor type or a particular area of the body. It has the same adaptive effects as other cannabinoids, meaning it interacts with many aspects of the ECS on an as-needed basis. This means that HHC interacts with CB1 receptors, mainly associated with cerebral effects, as well as CB2 receptors, often linked to the “body high” and physical sensations.*

In terms of practical effects, HHC is similar to THC and its analogs, and has more noticeable effects compared to the subtleties of CBD. This is still a psychoactive substance, but it’s considerably less potent than many of the THC products available today.*

Is HHC natural or synthetic?

The debate about natural vs. synthetic THC derivatives is still going on, and it plays a role in how these products are viewed in a legal sense. HHC is definitely a natural compound that can be taken from the cannabis plant in its purest form, though it’s difficult to extract in large amounts.* 

Therefore, many of the HHC products found on store shelves now fall under the synthetic category. The process involves taking delta-9 THC and using a method known as hydrogenation. This means hydrogen molecules are combined with delta-9 THC to make it a more stable compound in the form of HHC.*

Alternatively, HHC can be produced from CBD after its conversion to delta-8 THC. Because HHC is such a rare cannabinoid in the natural world, most HHC products you find will be the result of one of these synthetic processes. 

This fact doesn’t necessarily mean that HHC is more or less safe or that you should expect other side effects on top of its standard claims. However, if you’re seeking a more natural and organic method of consumption, consider looking for a hemp extract that is derived with minimal processing and extra production steps. 

What about the legality of HHC?

Under the 2018 Farm Bill, HHC fell into the category of a federally legal hemp derivative. Because it’s less potent than traditional delta-9 THC, there haven’t been as many reported issues in terms of safety, making it more of an under-the-radar product compared to others.* 

While this is good news for anyone interested in testing out HHC for themselves, the compound should still be approached with caution as you would with any form of hemp. Be sure to cross-check manufacturers and production methods, and try to find HHC products that feature third-party lab tests to ensure purity and consistency.

The legal landscape of hemp might be changing, but for now, HHC appears to be in the clear. 

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What is delta-9?

Delta-9 THC is the flagship cannabinoid in the cannabis plant, and the compound responsible for producing the sensations typically associated with being high. Delta-9 has a familiar chemical structure and has been studied for decades, even before CBD and HHC were officially documented.* 

Because delta-9 has such a long head start compared to other hemp products, it is more fully saturated in the marketplace and comes with more options for delivery methods and formats. While many users still opt to smoke cannabis flower to get their delta-9, newer products offer more precise and sustainable ways to deliver a serving size without the downsides of smoking.*

Keep in mind that for years, delta-9 was simply known as THC, as there wasn’t a clear distinction between this compound and the other delta variants that have emerged in recent years. In fact, many still refer to this cannabinoid as THC without the delta designation, so keep an eye out for products that may not be so clear with their labels.*

Meanwhile, delta-9 remains at the top of the heap in terms of popularity compared to other delta analogs. While CBD use is more widespread because it doesn’t produce a high, THC is still the go-to compound to get the familiar psychoactive effects of hemp. 

How does delta-9 affect the body?

Delta-9 affects the body similarly to HHC and other delta variants. However, when delta-9 interacts with CB1 receptors, it binds directly to them, meaning the psychoactive effects are far more intense and sustained. Even in low amounts, delta-9 users will experience sensations like slowed time perception, heightened sensations, and mild sedation or euphoria.*

The effects of delta-9 will also vary based on the delivery method used, with variables like speed of onset and duration of experience. Smoking cannabis flower with delta-9 will cause a high in a matter of minutes, for example, while ingesting an edible like a delta-9 gummy may take up to an hour before effects are felt.*

Nevertheless, the facts about delta-9 remain clear. This is the most potent, natural version of THC available, even as new variations are introduced. The good news is that with so many options on the market, you can find a THC product that suits your needs and matches your lifestyle, even if that means dialing down the psychoactive effects with lower doses or alternative formulations.

Is delta-9 natural or synthetic?

Delta-9 occurs naturally in the hemp plant, and it’s one of the more bioavailable compounds of all the cannabinoids usually discussed. However, there are many ways to obtain delta-9 and increase its concentrations based on extraction methods or distillations. 

Therefore, some delta-9 products are considered more natural than others, while some are closer to synthetic based on their production styles. Once again, this reiterates the importance of choosing delta-9 products from brands that are transparent in their production techniques and offer third-party testing so that no questions are left unanswered. 

What about the legality of delta-9?

With the introduction of the Farm Bill, delta-9 was made legal in certain concentrations in hemp extract products. If a product contains 0.3% or less delta-9 by dry weight, it is considered federally legal. For example, a full-spectrum hemp extract with 0.3% delta-9 THC can be sold and consumed almost anywhere.*

On the other hand, some states are pushing back against these Farm Bill regulations after some manufacturers found loopholes to include higher serving sizes of THC in individual items, such as edibles. There may be changes to the legal status of delta-9 right around the corner, so pay attention to the laws in your state and be ready to seek alternatives if necessary. 

How do HHC and delta-9 compare?

HHC and delta-9 certainly have plenty in common, and it makes sense that they are often compared side by side. But which of these differences matter most when it comes time to choose the right product for your needs, and how can you make the best pick with the options available? Let’s dive deeper and examine key differences across major categories.

Chemistry

On a chemical level, both HHC and delta-9 are comprised of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms. However, while the chemical structure of delta-9 THC is characterized by a double bond on the ninth carbon, HHC has no double bonds, earning it the distinctive hydrogen prefix.

This might not seem like a major difference, but even the slightest alteration to the chemical structure of these molecules means the effects on the body differ dramatically. 

Effects

The effects of HHC and delta-9 differ by intensity and a few key characteristics. While delta-9 is often associated with a cerebral high and mild sedation, the effects of HHC are reported to be much more subtle, lighter, and more conducive to creative and productive activities.

So, while you might enjoy the relaxing effects of delta-9 to help you wind down and “check out” for the evening after a day of work, HHC may be more easy to integrate into your daily life and to-do list. As always, you’ll want to start with small serving sizes of any hemp product and see for yourself how your body responds.* 

Delivery methods

HHC products have flooded the market in recent years, ever since the Farm Bill gave the green light for distribution. We’ve seen the usual array of delivery methods hit stores, running the spectrum from tinctures and oils to capsules, vapes, and edibles.

On the other hand, delta-9 has been used for decades in the medical marijuana field and elsewhere, and producers have a broader range of formulations to draw from. This means you’ll find a much wider variety of delta-9 products on the market today, as HHC is still catching up to this highly popular category. 

Associated risks

It’s always important to weigh the risks, whether that means planning out your experience ahead of time and ensuring you have adequate time to relax and recover from a serving. 

With delta-9, some users will need to be careful with larger mg amounts, as this can cause psychological distress or even physical symptoms. While HHC can also have its side effects, the lower overall intensity suggests it's more palatable for first-time users. Unless, you're getting your HHC from an untrustworthy brand. With both THC and HHC, you always want to have third-party lab reports available to confirm cannabinoid content and safety.*

The bottom line

HHC and delta-9 clearly have a lot in common, from the almost identical chemical structure to the similar effects and products available today. Still, the subtle differences mean these two compounds may be worlds apart in how, when, and why you choose to use them.

Our selection of delta-9 products makes it easy to test the waters of THC with consistent serving sizes and balanced formulations that maximize benefits. Start there, and enjoy the journey of making hemp a part of your lifestyle.* 

Sources:

Synthesis and pharmacological activity of the epimers of hexahydrocannabinol (HHC) | Nature

Studies Pertaining to the Emerging Cannabinoid Hexahydrocannabinol (HHC) | ACS Publications

Hexahydrocannabinol Pharmacology, Toxicology, and Analysis: The First Evidence for a Recent New Psychoactive Substance | NIH

Effects of Cannabidiol and Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol on Emotion, Cognition, and Attention | Frontiers

Changes in delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) concentrations in cannabis over time | Wiley Online Library