Move over, CBD: HHC is the new legal cannabis causing concern

After the CBD boom, authorities worry about HHC, which can be ingested, smoked or vaporized, with effects similar to those of cannabis.

It could be the next big thing after the cannabidiol (CBD) wave and its controversies: HHC, also known as synthetic cannabis.

HHC sellers advertise the euphoric sensations and the mental and physical relaxation it brings. But health professionals fear it could affect people and say it should be regulated.

What is HHC?

HHC stands for hexahydrocannabinol, a semi-synthetic molecule. This means that it must be produced in a laboratory, where THC extracted from the hemp plant (Cannabis sativa) is combined with hydrogen molecules.

It is therefore not surprising that the effects are similar to those of THC, the psychoactive molecule in cannabis.

In the form of dried flowers, oils, resins or vape liquids, HHC products can be ingested, smoked or inhaled and are increasingly in demand lately.

HHC emerged in late 2021 in the US and then became popular in Europe in 2022, according to the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).

The complex process required to produce it may explain why it emerged so recently, while natural cannabis has been widely consumed.

Experts say it probably owes a lot to the boom in CBD products. To be marketed, CBD must contain a THC level of less than 0.2% in the UK and Ireland and 0.3% in the US and France. While this may be the natural case, it is commonly done in the laboratory, aiding the emergence of other synthetic cannabinoids such as HHC.

Synthetic drugs always have much greater clinical effects in humans than the molecule itself,\” explained Jolle Micallef, professor of pharmacology, at the National French radio.

Does HHC get you high? How is HHC different from cannabis or CBD?

After CBD\’s popularity boomed, HHC flooded the market with vape products and edibles aimed at younger consumers.

However, this recent widespread use means that the health impact of HHC is poorly understood, with very limited scientific studies.

Furthermore, contaminations with extraction residues or synthetic by-products could lead to unforeseen risks, the EMCDDA\’s Rachel Christie told Euronews Next.

Traces of heavy metals from the catalyst used for hydrogenation could also be present, he added. The organization released a relationship last month warned about the risks posed by HHC.

The effects of HHC are described as being very close to those of THC, including feelings of euphoria and relaxation. As a cannabinoid, HHC also affects bodily functions such as sleep and appetite, munchies commonly used to describe cravings for high-calorie foods after consuming cannabis.

Despite the lack of extensive scientific literature on HHC, early data suggest it may have liability for abuse and addiction potential in humans, Christie said when asked about the risk of addiction.

This, he explains, is the main difference between HHC and CBD. The extremely low level of THC in CBD products effectively prevents the psychotropic effects. On the other hand, HHC products are said to have some of the negative side effects compared to those of THC, including anxiety, memory loss, and coordination difficulties.

Which countries have banned HHC?

HHC isn\’t technically legal, but vendors are taking advantage of a gray area in the law.

International drug conventions are addressing the same problem. Since the drug appeared on the market so recently, it does not appear in the listed category of cannabinoids. HHC is not covered by the 1961 and 1971 United Nations Conventions, Christie explained.

As a result, it is very common to find HHC marketed as legal THC, legal joint, and so on.

However, several countries have taken steps to ban it, such as Estonia, which was the first EU country to issue a bill to include HHC in the list of banned psychotropic drugs, according to a specialized media Jack.

Other countries such as Switzerland or Finland have taken similar measures. These countries are highlighted in red on the map below.

French Health Minister François Braun said on May 15 that it would be a matter of weeks before HHC-based products become illegal. Legal proceedings to ban the substance are also underway in Denmark and the Czech Republic. These countries are highlighted in orange on the map below.

No legal action has yet been taken in the yellow countries but the EMCDDA has detected the presence of HHC on the market.

However, Internet data suggests that HHC use is likely much greater than the seizures reported thus far suggest, Christie said.

Why did stores start selling HHC?

The number of CBD shops in France has grown from 400 to 1,800 in just one year, thanks to marketing campaigns promoting it as a miracle solution for sleep disorders, anxiety and pain.

The now highly competitive market should catch up 3.2 billion by 2025.

In this context, HHC presented a new business opportunity, with prices ranging from 6 to 10 per gram of flower, higher than those of CBD products.

Finally, HHC has taken advantage of online ordering and is widely sold on the Internet, largely circumventing the existing legal framework.

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