HHC vs. Delta-8 and Delta-9 THC: What’s the Difference?

Illustration for HHC vs. Delta 8 and Delta 9 THC
Written by Livvy Ashton | Last updated: June 6, 2022

In addition to the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, delta 9 THC, users can now also turn to delta 8 and HHC for a more personalized experience. But how do these cannabinoids compare?

This article offers a deep dive into the similarities and differences of HHC, delta 8, and delta 9 THC.

The primary purpose is to help you decide which is best for you by directly comparing how each makes you feel, their benefits, side effects, and legal status.

Comparing HHC with Delta 8 THC & Delta 9 THC Side-By-Side:

Overall, HHC is very similar to both delta 8 and delta 9 THC. It’s slightly less potent than D9 but more potent than D8. It has similar relaxing qualities as D8 but maintains the euphoric effects of D9 (especially in higher doses). Unlike D9, HHC is legal in most states, and the cost is most comparable to delta 8.

Here’s a quick side-by-side comparison of these three popular cannabinoids:

Metrics HHC Delta 8 Delta 9
Psychoactivity Moderate-High Mild-Moderate Moderate-High
Cost $$ $$ $$$
Concentration in cannabis Less than 0.1% Less than 1% Up to 30%
Receptors CB1 & CB2 CB1 & CB2 CB1 &CB2
Typical dose 10-30 mg 10–40 mg 5–20 mg
Effects on appetite Weak stimulant Strong stimulant Moderate stimulant
Anxiety side effects Very mild Very mild Mild to moderate
Legality Legal gray area Legal gray area Illegal
Shelf-Life Very long (5+ years) Moderate (3–5 years) Short to moderate (1–3 years)

What is HHC?

Hexahydrocannabinol (HHC) is a hydrogenated form of THC, aka an analog best known for its THC-like effects and shelf stability. HHC products can safely exist in your cabinets or fridge for a while because it has a substantially longer shelf life than delta 9 THC.

HHC is naturally present in the cannabis plant but in minuscule concentrations. Companies sell it in large quantities because they can create it in a lab, typically through hydrogenation.

This compound was first discovered in 1947 by Roger Adams — the American organic chemist who isolated and identified CBD in 1940. Adams synthesized this cannabinoid from THC found in the Cannabis sativa plant. At that point, other structurally related compounds have been isolated, but rarely hexahydrocannabinol itself.

This hydrogenated THC derivative is roughly 70% to 80% of Δ9 THC’s strength.

Chemically, HHC is different from THC because it has no double bonds in its chemical structure. During the “conversion” process, all double bonds in THC are broken up and replaced with hydrogen atoms. This process is known as hydrogenation and creates HHC, the exact opposite molecule of CBN (cannabinol), a THC byproduct with additional double-bonds.

Although subtle, this difference changes the binding affinity of this molecule to the CB1 and CB2 receptors of the endocannabinoid system. It also gives this compound a longer shelf-life and makes it less susceptible to breakdown and more resistant to improper storage, heat, and UV-light exposure.

What is Delta 8 THC?

Delta 8 THC is another THC analog. It has the same structure as delta 9 THC, with the only difference being the placement of a double bond. As the name implies, the delta 9 isomer has a double bond on the 9th carbon chain, while the delta 8 isomer on the 8th carbon chain.

This subtle difference in their structure creates noticeable effects. Delta 8 is considered the perfect alternative to delta 9 for anyone looking to “escape” in a less intoxicating compound that causes less anxiety. Namely, delta 8 is known to be roughly half of delta 9’s potency.

Delta 9 THC has a longer shelf life than HHC because it’s designed to break down into other cannabinoids when exposed to outside conditions. It typically “dissolves” into delta 8 and cannabinol (CBN). Cannabinol is around 10% of delta 9’s potency and is known as the ultimate sleep cannabinoid.

There are no hemp flower strains with an extra high percentage of delta 8 THC. Plant breeders haven’t found a way to selectively breed cannabis with high delta 8 concentration because this cannabinoid mainly occurs as a THC byproduct.

That said, cannabis plants that have spent more time in storage exposed to environmental conditions have a higher concentration of delta 8 than fresh plants. So, by deliberately “aging” cannabis flower by exposing it to oxygen and UV light, breeders can create cannabis flower with a higher “natural” concentration of delta 8.

However, the most common method of obtaining delta 8 is through chemical conversion, which we discuss more of below.

What is Delta 9 THC?

The chemical composition of the cannabis plant includes over 100 cannabinoids. But, only one, delta 9 THC (or just THC), is known as the main active ingredient that produces a “high.”

THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the primary psychotropic compound in marijuana. It’s present in hemp but in trace amounts that don’t cross the legal threshold of 0.3% by dry weight — set by the 2018 Farm Bill.

In our complex world, delta 9 exists in the intersection of an illegal substance and a medicine. This cannabinoid activates receptors in the brain regulating appetite, sleep, memory, and visual and auditory perception. These receptors also cause the “high” associated with the marijuana plant.

The two main types of THC are delta 9 and delta 8. While delta 9 accounts for up to 25% of the plant’s weight, delta 8 is present in trace amounts (less than 1%) and is 50% to 70% as strong as delta 9.

Delta 9 is the most prevalent form of THC in cannabis, but it’s also the least stable and breaks down to CBN when exposed to oxygen.

Effects & Benefits: Comparing HHC, Delta 8, & Delta 9 THC

HHC’s effects spread on the broadest spectrum — from anxiety-reducing to euphoric and sedative.

Women enjoying relaxation and euphoria benefits of HHC

Anecdotal evidence shows that HHC is closer to delta 9 in intoxication, but it has more similarities to delta 8. Although it gets the user more “stoned” than delta 8, it exhibits an unbelievably smooth, clear-headed “high.”

This cannabinoid is closer to delta 9 because it alters our auditory and visual perception. Some users experience hallucinations and enhanced divergent thinking. Overall, the effects of HHC are very similar to THC, so higher doses (over 20mg) are euphoric and energizing, while lower doses exhibit more calming effects identical to delta 8.

For certain users, HHC can be more intense than delta 9, even though we know it’s about 80% of its potency. These sensitive users typically describe its effects as a “distinct body high” that’s much more pronounced than delta 9’s. In addition, it may cause hypnagogic imagery faster than THC and other major psychotropic cannabinoids.

On average, the effects of HHC cartridges when vaped or smoked last from 3 to 4 hours. Like other compounds, vaped or smoked HHC products kicks in quickly, so you’ll feel it after 10 minutes. The more you smoke, the longer the effects last. Several puffs can last up to 4 hours compared to one puff that has worn off after two hours.

Like THC edibles, the effects of HHC edibles (gummies) need a bit longer to kick in but last the longest. For some people, edibles can be noticeable for up to 6 hours after consumption. That said, many users report high tolerance after taking HHC products a couple of times.

The bottom line, it all depends on what you’re looking for. If you want a more day-to-day experience of a clear-headed “high,” delta 8 is perfect. If you’re looking to relax and get as high as a kite, delta 9 is the best option. However, it comes with more pronounced side effects. So, if you don’t like the anxiety or drowsiness delta 9 causes, HHC is your go-to, especially as a daytime alternative with a predominately euphoric side.

Most of the evidence on cannabinoid effects is anecdotal, so it’s fair to acknowledge that HHC tends to cause less anxiety than delta 8. If delta 8 gives you mild anxiety spikes, HHC is definitely less anxious than THC, even in people with typical anxiety symptoms. Be prepared for side effects like heart palpitations and a more intense high.

Many users prefer to mix an intoxicating cannabinoid with less intoxicating or non-intoxicating cannabinoids and get a full spectrum experience. The effects also depend on the person’s neurochemical balance and the cannabinoid’s mechanism of action and binding affinity.

Why do the Effects of HHC Vary so Much?

There aren’t unified quality standards or control when it comes to creating this cannabinoid. Users should be careful when looking for a product that contains HHC in its composition in the first palace. In addition, some products might contain higher levels of delta 9 and delta 8 or be mixed with other compounds, hence producing a variety of effects.

But, the reason why HHC’s effects vary so much is likely rooted in the way it’s manufactured.

An HHC product made right is a blend of two different types of HHC molecules:

  1. 9R HHC, the active part of the molecule that binds to the body’s endocannabinoid receptors, and
  2. 9S HHC, the partly active side of the molecule with a slightly different structure that doesn’t bind as well to the body’s endocannabinoid receptors.

Manufacturers haven’t determined how to effectively separate the high-potency HHC molecule from the low-potency molecule. Because of this, HHC produced for commercial purposes is a blend of two forms, and it varies depending on which one you get.

The effects of HHC on the mind and body are very similar to the effects of THC. But, because HHC is less potent, you’ll need larger quantities to get the full THC effects.

Is it Wise to Mix Delta 8 & HHC?

You might hear some people mix both delta 8 and HHC. Is this a good idea? How do these cannabinoids interact in the body when combined? Finally, if you mix them, what’s the best ratio to aim for?

First, we don’t know much about cannabinoid interaction in the body, let alone mixing it with delta 8. Many brands deliberately mix these two compounds (1:2 or 2:2) or with non-intoxicating cannabinoids like CBD to achieve a bit of balance. Anecdotal evidence shows such combinations to be safe for now, but try them at your own risk.

Medicinal Benefits of HHC vs. Delta 8 and Delta 9 THC

There aren’t many reputable studies on HHC and its potential effects. Since the arrival of cannabis in North America, people have used its extracts for medicinal purposes. The most widely studied compounds are delta 9 THC and cannabidiol (CBD).

Potential Therapeutic Benefits of HHC

Anecdotal evidence shows that HHC exhibits similar therapeutic properties as other forms of THC. One of the reasons we can rely on that is the similarity in structure between these molecules and affinity for the same receptors in the body. Here are some of the few studies showcasing its potential benefits:

1. HHC May Help Manage Chronic Pain

When tested on rats, this cannabinoid showed significant painkilling properties.

Although we need human studies, research shows promising results of using HHC in this area and points to it as a viable medicine for chronic pain management.

2. HHC May Help Reduce Inflammation

A man with muscle pain and inflammation

Most cannabinoids efficiently combat pain and reduce inflammation, so HHC is no different. Although HHC wasn’t directly researched for pain yet, one study concluded that hydrogenated cannabinoids bind well with the CB1 receptor in the brain and may reduce inflammation in joints.

3. HHC May Serve as a Potential Sleep Aid

HHC’s psychotropic effects are likely caused by its interaction with the CB1 receptors in the brain. This compound’s exact mechanism of action is unknown, but research has shown that activating the CB1 receptor (in this case by delta 9) helps with sleep.

Potential Therapeutic Benefits of Delta 8

There are only a few studies providing insight into the potential therapeutic effects of delta 8 THC. Most of the effects of this cannabinoid come from anecdotal evidence or assumptions based on the similarities of delta 8 THC with delta 9 THC (for which there’s a lot more research).

Here’s what some of the findings and leading theories suggest: 

1. Delta 8 May Alleviate Anxiety

The thing about delta 8 that makes it a suitable cannabinoid for anxiety is that it gives a mellower “high” than delta 9. Anecdotal reports show that delta 8 causes much less anxiety than delta 9 and a clear-headed high that doesn’t interfere with focus and clarity. Its effects on anxiety remain the same regardless of the dose, which is not the case with delta 9.

2. Delta 8 May Help With Pain & Inflammation

According to a preclinical study published in 2018, topical administration of delta 8 significantly improved pain and inflammation in eye injuries. The study showed that this result was achieved through activation of the CB1 receptors — critical for functions like pain, sleep, and metabolism.

3. Delta 8 May Reduce Nausea

Both delta 8 and delta 9 have been studied for nausea in cancer patients and have shown promising results. Research shows that delta 8 is better than delta 9 for nausea because it doesn’t leave any significant side effects.

4. Delta 8 May Promote Appetite

Delta 8 is also considered a stronger appetite stimulant than delta 9. One mice study showed that delta 8 increased the feeding patterns by up to 22%.

Therapeutic Benefits of Delta 9

As the main cannabinoid in marijuana, delta 9 always took precedence in research. Its therapeutic potential in different areas is imminent, especially where traditional treatment doesn’t work, including in severe cases of multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and cancer. Here’s what studies show about delta 9’s therapeutic benefits:

1. Delta 9 May Alleviate Anxiety

A recent study performed by researchers at the University of Chicago showed that the impact of delta 9 on anxiety is dose-dependent. Lower doses of 7.5mg positively impacted anxiety in individuals engaged in public speaking, while higher doses of 12.5mg led to higher perceived stress and anxiety levels.

2. Delta 9 May Increase Appetite

Increased appetite is often related to delta 9 because of the insufferable hunger, “or the munchies” that the user experiences after smoking weed. Some critical applications of delta 9’s appetite-stimulating benefits are in cancer patients going through chemo and HIV patients. Studies investigating such cases show increased levels of appetite-stimulating or “hunger hormones” like leptin and ghrelin.

3. Delta 9 Helps With Certain Types of Epilepsy

Alongside CBD, which is considered the main anti-seizure component in cannabis, delta 9 also shows promise for the treatment of this debilitating condition. Their effectiveness in reducing and eliminating seizures is demonstrated through two government-approved drugs for epilepsy, including Epidiolex (100% CBD) and Sativex (a combination of CBD and THC).

Safety & Side Effects of HHC vs. Delta 8 & Delta 9

Glass bottles of cannabis and hemp showing effects of cannabinoids

Is HHC safe? Officially, there haven’t been any studies to talk about its safety profile. So, all the research we have is based on anecdotal evidence. Although HHC is not as popular and widely used as delta 8, many people continue using it on a daily basis.

Delta 9 is a safe cannabinoid because it’s naturally extracted from the hemp plant. That’s not the case with delta 8 and HHC. There have been a few incidents with corrupted delta 8 products followed by an FDA warning on their safety. With HHC, users haven’t reported severe side effects.

Similar to delta 8, the risk of consuming HHC comes from the potential presence of harmful and toxic byproducts in the final item — a result of using harsh chemicals during the manufacturing process.

Take precautions with delta 8 and HHC by always checking what’s in the product you’re buying. Ask for third-party labs for heavy metals and chemical solvents to stay safe, and if the vendor cannot provide them, avoid buying from them.

Regarding side effects, it’s important to mention that they tend to vary but are similar in both HHC and THC.

Users report some of the following side effects when consuming this cannabinoid:

  • Dry mouth
  • Red eyes
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Insomnia
  • Increased hunger
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion

When the user reacts sensitively to HHC, they report having side effects similar to when consuming high doses of THC. Delta 9 tends to cause the most severe side effects out of the three, but if taken in high doses, the side effects of HHC and delta 8 are also more pronounced.

The severity of THC’s side effects depends on the product. With THC, users are likely to experience paranoia and anxiety the first couple of times. If the product is mixed with high levels of CBD, the paranoia, anxiety, and overall psychotropic potential tend to dial down.

Whole spectrum products rich in all cannabinoids and relaxing terpenes are likely to present more balanced effects that don’t lead to anxiety. Delta 8 is much milder than delta 9, but it can cause some of the common side effects like anxiety, extreme tiredness, and low blood pressure.

Some of THC’s potential side effects include: 

  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Insomnia

The legality of HHC vs. Delta 8 and Delta 9

We don’t have to discuss the legality of delta 9 because, in the United States, THC is an illegal Schedule I substance. The exception of this federal provision is state laws that allow the sale of products rich in delta 9 within their borders.

The legal status of HHC and delta 8 is a different and very murky story. Amidst the ongoing debate, companies claim HHC is a natural compound entirely legal to sell.

The same narrative was present with delta 8. Are they natural or synthetic? Do they fall under the Federal Analog Act that makes any analog of a listed Schedule I drug (like delta 9) an illegal substance?

These are valid questions with no clear answers, which means delta 8 and HHC are caught in a gray legal area. If considered synthetic, they’ll be banned on a federal level as illegal substances. If deemed natural, they will be as legal as the hemp plant if added to products with a concentration of less than 0.3% THC.

Marijuana bud and gavel showing legality of HHC vs Delta 9 and Delta 9

Making HHC vs. Delta 8 THC

Because delta 9 is extracted directly from the cannabis plant, let’s discuss the differences in the manufacturing of HHC and delta 8.

Delta 8 occurs naturally in the cannabis plant but in minuscule concentrations. So, manufacturers use hemp-derived CBD (and harsh chemicals) to convert it into delta 8 THC.

Once CBD is extracted from the plant, labs use the process of isomerization (transforming a compound into one of its isomeric forms) to obtain delta 8. In the process, they use solvents, which, due to safety reasons, must be removed from the final product through evaporation.

HHC can be made using three different methods, but the main one is the hydrogenation of THC. HHC can be made by hydrogenating any THC isomer, including delta 9, delta 8, and delta 10. The process involves high-pressure THC, hydrogen atoms, and catalysts like palladium, nickel, or platinum.

The other two methods are hydrogenation of terpenes (like citronellol) into HHC and conversion of CBD into HHC with the help of artificial gastric juice.

Final Thoughts: HHC vs. Delta 8 and Delta 9

Every cannabinoid is unique in its own way. HHC is very close in effects and potency to delta 9, but it also has similarities with delta 8. Despite the structural differences, all three cannabinoids bind to CB1 receptors in the brain — key players involved in regulating vital functions like sleep, memory, and metabolism.

When it comes to which is better, it all comes down to individual preferences and what you’re looking for at a particular moment. For a more potent high, HHC will do better than delta 8. For a more clear-headed high with relaxing effects, go for delta 8.

Overall, consider the legality of each product and always check for third-party tests that show purity and potency.

References

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  2. Watanabe, K. (2007). Conversion of cannabidiol to Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol and related cannabinoids in artificial gastric juice, and their pharmacological effects in mice. Forensic Toxicology, 16–21.
  3. Bloom, A. S. (1977). 9 nor 9β Hydroxyhexahydrocannabinol, a cannabinoid with potent antinociceptive activity: comparisons with morphine. Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, 200(2), 263–270.
  4. Ben-Shabat, S., Hanuš, L. O., Katzavian, G., & Gallily, R. (2006). New Cannabidiol Derivatives: Synthesis, Binding to Cannabinoid Receptor, and Evaluation of Their Antiinflammatory Activity. Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, 49(3), 1113–1117 [4].
  5. Murillo-Rodríguez, E. (2008). The role of the CB1 receptor in the regulation of sleep. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, 32(6), 1420–1427 [5].
  6. Thapa, D., Cairns, E. A., Szczesniak, A. M., Toguri, J. T., Caldwell, M. D., & Kelly, M. E. M. (2018). The Cannabinoids Δ8THC, CBD, and HU-308 Act via Distinct Receptors to Reduce Corneal Pain and Inflammation. Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, 3(1), 11–20 [6].
  7. Abrahamov, A., Abrahamov, A., & Mechoulam, R. (1995). An efficient new cannabinoid antiemetic in pediatric oncology. Life Sciences, 56(23–24), 2097–2102.
  8. Avraham, Y., Ben-Shushan, D., Breuer, A., Zolotarev, O., Okon, A., Fink, N., Katz, V., & Berry, E. M. (2004). Very low doses of Δ8-THC increase food consumption and alter neurotransmitter levels following weight loss. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, 77(4), 675–684 [8].
  9. Riggs, P. K., Vaida, F., Rossi, S. S., Sorkin, L. S., Gouaux, B., Grant, I., & Ellis, R. J. (2012). A pilot study of the effects of cannabis on appetite hormones in HIV-infected adult men. Brain Research, 1431, 46–52.
  10. Dos Santos, R. G., J. E. C. Hallak, J. P. Leite, A. W. Zuardi, and J. A. S. Crippa. “Phytocannabinoids and epilepsy.” Journal of clinical pharmacy and therapeutics 40, no. 2 (2015): 135-143.

Livvy is a registered nurse (RN) and board-certified nurse midwife (CNM) in the state of New Jersey. After giving birth to her newborn daughter, Livvy stepped down from her full-time position at the Children’s Hospital of New Jersey. This gave her the opportunity to spend more time writing articles on all topics related to pregnancy and prenatal care.

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