Does HHC Show Up on a Drug Test?

Illustration for Does HHC Show up on a Drug Test
Written by Nina Julia | Last updated: September 6, 2022

One of the biggest myths surrounding the HHC cannabinoid is that it doesn’t register on a drug test.

While it’s possible that the chances are lower compared to delta 9 THC, there’s no reason why people taking HHC wouldn’t test positive for THC-related metabolites too.

The cannabis community is torn on this one — some users report passing their test without issue; others have failed after using HHC just once or twice.

Will HHC Show Up on A Drug Test?

The jury’s still out on this one. Our research shows that HHC is more likely to appear on a drug test than not for two reasons.

1. HHC Produces Similar Metabolites as THC

This cannabinoid is a THC analog with a similar structure and nearly identical effects to delta 8 and delta 9. Scarce research shows the similarities in their metabolites as well.

Based on anecdotal evidence, we are leaning more towards a yes, but the answer to this question varies from person to person.

Some user data, like this one on Reddit, suggests that HHC does show up on a drug test. But, there isn’t any scientific research to confirm or deny these claims.

Therefore, the best attitude to this question is to find out by yourself. Buy a quality drug test and see which result you’ll get.

2. HHC Products Are Often Cross-Contaminated With THC

When thinking about HHC and drug tests, consider the danger of cross-contamination.

The HHC space is full of bad actors that don’t provide basic testing and contamination reports for their products. If you’re not careful, you might fall prey to illegal products with levels of delta 9 THC that overpass the federal threshold of 0.3%.

In some cases, the product does claim trace amounts of THC, but falsely. Take everything with a grain of salt and buy only from reliable and transparent sources that provide a comprehensive Certificate of Analysis.

Even if the product is entirely legal, full-spectrum products contain delta 9 THC. In regular users who consume HHC a few times a week, this builds up, and any THC could show a positive result on a drug test.

How Does HHC Metabolize?

You probably know about 11-hydroxy-THC — it’s the main active metabolite of THC, formed in the body after the user consumes decarboxylated cannabis.

According to a 1991 study by Harvey and Brown, liver microsomes from mice, rats, guinea pigs, hamsters, and rabbits oxidized an HHC isomer in a similar way they oxidized THC — by forming hydroxylated derivatives.

The primary derivative identified as 11-hydroxy-hexahydrocannabinol (11-OH-HHC), indicates a similar metabolic process of HHC to THC. But, instead of forming the primary THC metabolite, 11-hydroxy-THC, this compound metabolized its own form — 11-hydroxy-HHC.

The interesting thing about the 11-hydroxy-HHC metabolite is that it’s a minor active metabolite of THC as well. So, both HHC and THC metabolize into this compound to a different extent.

We need more research to confirm these findings, but this may indicate that the psychotropic effects of HHC come from it being metabolized to 11-hydroxy-HHC. Because of this metabolite, HHC may be detected as THC on generic marijuana tests.

False Positives: What Are the Odds?

Is it possible to get a false positive on a drug test with HHC?

A false positive means the test has detected the presence of THC when you actually haven’t used the substance.

Standard drug tests, like delta 8 THC tests, look for THC metabolites. HHC has a very similar structure to THC, interacts with the same CB receptors as THC, but doesn’t metabolize into the same compounds.

Based on the Harvey and Brown study, HHC also metabolizes into compounds with a similar chemical structure to THC-COOH, but again, the hydroxyl version. THC-COOH is another major metabolite of delta 9 THC detected by drug tests.

In HHC’s case, the two main identified were 8-alpha-hydroxy-HHC (in mice) and 8-beta-hydroxy-HHC (in hamsters). This finding raises questions about potential “false-positives” for THC that a standard drug test could give. Basically, we’re talking about detecting 11-OH-HHC as 11-OH-THC, and hence a false-positive result.

In THC’s case, the group of metabolites detected by a drug test is known as carboxy THC or THC-COOH (11-nor-9-carboxy-THC), which binds to fat cells.

Following hydroxy-THC, carboxy-THC is the second most important metabolite formed in the body. This class of metabolites is non-active, so drug tests measure their exposure and no impairment. The similarity in structure and chemical composition in these metabolites is undeniable, so a drug test might detect them.

An interesting finding in the study is that the authors presume that because HHC is metabolized in two different molecules in animals, chances are, it will become a slightly different metabolite in humans.

The claim that HHC doesn’t show up on a drug test is based largely on (unreliable) anecdotal evidence. Vendors love to claim that HHC won’t get you to fail a standard drug test because the tests can’t detect the molecule. But, cross-contamination and a false-positive test are very likely due to the similarities in chemical structure.

What is HHC?

Hexahydrocannabionol or HHC is a hydrogenated form of THC. The molecule is made via hydrogenation, a similar process manufacturers use to make margarine from vegetable oil.

It has no double bonds in its structure because they’ve been replaced with hydrogen molecules, creating a shelf-stable cannabinoid. No double bonds mean a more robust molecular structure that’s less susceptible to oxidation and degradation under harsh environmental conditions.

HHC occurs in the hemp plant naturally but in very low amounts, even lower than delta 8. It’s typically obtained in large quantities in a lab from THC and with the help of a catalyst like palladium. This process causes the double bond of the THC molecule to break down and be replaced with hydrogen.

Although a different molecule is formed, HHC maintains a nearly identical effect profile to THC. The main things that change due to slight differences in chemical structure is the potency, potential side effects, and benefits. HHC is slightly less potent than delta 9 and doesn’t go as hard on the anxiety and paranoia.

This cannabinoid has at least ten isomers, with cannabiripsol being the most prevalent in current products.

What’s the Difference Between HHC & THC?

HHC is a hydrogenated variety of THC. Although it’s not technically tetrahydrocannabinol, it can be derived from one. This compound has almost identical effects to THC. In fact, many users claim it’s like delta 9 and delta 8’s love child, offering the best of both worlds.

It’s considered a better option than delta 9 because it exhibits psychotropic effects without severe side effects. HHC causes euphoria, boosts appetite without giving uncontrollable “munchies,” and may cause “closed eyes” visuals more readily than delta 9.

On top of the excitement and euphoria, HHC is also a chilled, relaxing cannabinoid with sedating properties. This trait makes it closer to delta 8 THC.

Its side effects are considerably less intense than THC’s. This substance may cause dry mouth, rapid heart rate, anxiety, paranoia, insomnia, and increased appetite.

Research is also non-existent and incomplete regarding the therapeutic potential of this substance. Because of closeness in chemical structure, we can assume it has similar therapeutic potential to THC, but that needs to be further investigated. Anecdotal evidence and some preliminary research show that HHC may help with chronic pain, lack of sleep, nausea, and vomiting.

How Long Does HHC Stay in Your System?

Like other cannabinoids, the length of time HHC remains in your body depends on several factors, including:

  • Amount of HHC consumed
  • Type of HHC consumed
  • Frequency of use
  • Personal sensitivity to the substance
  • Metabolism
  • Type of test used to detect it

As a rule of thumb, you can expect this cannabinoid to stay in your system from a few weeks to a few months. Everyone reacts to HHC differently.

If we take delta 9 as an example, cannabinoids can be detected in bodily fluids like blood and urine for up to 30 days after the last use. It can be detected for several months in daily users who consume it multiple times a day.

We can assume that this compound does accumulate in the body’s cells like others, so make sure you stop using it for up to 3 weeks (and more, if possible) before taking a drug test.

Final Verdict: Does HHC Show Up On A Test?

Although we don’t know for sure whether standard 12-panel drug tests “catch” HHC’s metabolites, one thing’s for sure: this cannabinoid has a very similar chemical structure to THC.

Its metabolites are also similar in structure, with minor differences. This may contribute to the positive results many users get when testing, but this is anecdotal.

There’s no official research around this question, so please get tested and see for yourself. Many products contain some percentage of delta 8 and delta 9, which may contribute to a positive response due to cross-contamination.

References

  1. Harvey, D., & Brown, N. (1991). In vitro metabolism of the equatorial C11-methyl isomer of hexahydrocannabinol in several mammalian species. (1991). Drug Metabolism and Disposition, 19(3), 714–716.
  2. Harvey, D., & Brown, N. (1991). Comparative in vitro metabolism of the cannabinoids. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, 40(3), 533–540 [1].

Nina created CFAH.org following the birth of her second child. She was a science and math teacher for 6 years prior to becoming a parent — teaching in schools in White Plains, New York and later in Paterson, New Jersey.

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