Like many alternative cannabinoids, hexahydrocannabinol (HHC), a lesser-known cannabinoid derived from the cannabis plant, has found increasing popularity among wellness-oriented cannabis consumers — especially those residing in states where delta-9-THC, the main psychoactive compound in the cannabis plant, remains illegal.
Despite its legal status, there are some risks that come with consuming HHC in states where THC is illegal and you may have to take a drug test as, for example, part of the criteria for starting a new job.
In this post, we’ll discuss what HHC is, how it's made, and where it is or isn’t legal before diving into the subject of HHC drug testing.
As the authors behind one study note, there isn’t much academic literature available regarding HHC despite the compound being first synthesized in 1944.
With that being said, there are a few characteristics of HHC that scientists have established so far. For example, multiple peer-reviewed articles indicate that HHC might be present in trace amounts in the pollen of hemp plants.
To put that in perspective, the study linked above found HHC in concentrations of 42% and 24% in two legal “light-cannabis” products available on the Italian hemp market, which the study’s authors say are labeled as “not for human consumption” in a manner similar to how synthetic cannabinoids might be in the United States.
HHC can be derived from delta-9-THC, delta-8-THC, and CBD. For delta-9-THC, a chemical process called hydrogenation is employed, in which the THC molecule undergoes a transformation with hydrogen atoms, resulting in a change in the structure and properties of the THC molecule. This conversion is enough to make the final product, HHC, distinct and legal under current U.S. law.
If you’re in the United States, however, it's more likely that your HHC product will be derived from federally legal hemp that is rich in CBD but contains less than 0.3% delta-9-THC by dry weight.
To derive HHC from CBD, producers first convert isolated CBD into THC through a variety of available methods, which can employ substances like methanol and ethanol. Another method used in a widely cited study published in 2007 involves incubating CBD in artificial gastric juice — a liquid substance that mimics the digestive properties of the natural gastric juice produced by your stomach — and successfully transforms CBD into THC and two types of HHC.
HHC seems to produce similar effects to THC, such as mild psychoactive effects, but at a much lower potency, according to the authors of a study that employed a process using artificial gastric juice—an acid solution mimicking human digestive fluid—to convert CBD into THC and HHC.
HHC’s legality is a bit murky, especially as individual states seek to ban individual hemp-derived compounds as new psychoactive cannabinoids gain popularity.
If you’re interested in purchasing HHC products, it's important to check up on the most recent legislation in your state, as laws can vary from state to state.
Still, federal law in the United States has allowed for the growth of CBD-rich hemp plants and the manufacturing of products from those plants thanks to the Agricultural Improvement Act, also known as the 2018 Farm Bill.
The legalization of hemp led to the growth of a massive market for hemp-derived products containing cannabinoids like delta-8-THC, delta-10-THC, and HHC, and consumers can now purchase those products in the form of tinctures, gummies, drinks, topicals, and more.
However, the lack of regulatory oversight leaves consumers at risk of consuming a low-quality product and suffering adverse effects as a result.
One way to avoid low-quality products is to purchase your hemp-derived products directly from a reputable source — ideally the same farm that grew the raw materials for your product — or through a platform like Jointly Matches.
When you buy a cannabis or CBD product through Jointly Matches, you can rest assured that it comes from a pre-vetted company. Not only can you see the COA for your CBD products, but you can also see how other Jointly users rated products for goals like managing aches and pains and improving sleep.
Drug tests typically target THC and its metabolites, such as 11-OH-THC and 11-COOH-THC. On the surface, this sounds like good news for HHC consumers, as it means there could be limited chance of HHC detection in drug tests.
However, anecdotal evidence shows that today’s testing products are capable of detecting HHC in drug screens. While scientific studies are still sparse in this area, some individual case reports, such as a notable LinkedIn post, suggest that current drug testing products may be capable of detecting HHC in drug screens.
In a 2022 LinkedIn post, dispensary owner Doug Weller showed that an individual who has only consumed HHC can test positive for THC when using the Easy@Home brand of drug testing kits.
Weller also shared the certificate of analysis detailing the cannabinoid content of the product consumed by the individual who was tested, which shows lots of HHC but very little THC.
One possibility for HHC triggering a positive THC result on a drug test might be due to the body metabolizing HHC into a molecule structurally similar to a THC metabolite. This is currently speculative and further research is needed to confirm this.
So, will HHC show up on a drug test? Based on available anecdotal evidence, it appears that HHC has the potential to trigger a positive result on a THC drug test. However, concrete scientific evidence is still lacking, warranting more research in this area.
Due to the lack of information regarding HHC and drug tests, your best bet for avoiding HHC detection on a drug test is to treat HHC like THC and detox accordingly.
“Aside from launching a legal challenge, your best defense against urine testing is to be clean,” Dale Gieringer, director of the California arm of cannabis activist group NORML, advises.
“Unfortunately, this may be difficult since urine tests may detect marijuana 1-5 days after an occasional use, 1-3 weeks in regular users, and 4-6 weeks in multiple daily users,” he adds.
Gieringer references a number of popular folk remedies believed to speed up the elimination of detectable cannabinoids from the body, including:
However, as Gieringer affirms, there is limited scientific evidence suggesting that some of the more obscure or difficult detection-avoidance methods actually work — though, if you have access to the time, money, and materials to try them out, there isn’t much of a downside to doing so.
While urine tests remain one of the most popular types of drug tests, the entity requiring you to take a drug test might also use a saliva-based drug test to determine whether you’ve recently consumed a cannabis product.
This is because, as Gieringer states, urine tests are capable of detecting cannabis use from as long as a month prior in heavy users — information that is essentially useless for any entity looking to determine whether an individual was intoxicated during, for example, a recent workplace incident, in the most accurate manner possible.
Because saliva tests can only detect THC for up to a few days after consumption, your best bet for passing a saliva-based drug test is to take a short break from cannabis, especially if you primarily smoke or vape.
Jointly is the cannabis discovery app that makes it easy to find and shop the best cannabis and CBD products for your goals. Your matches are calculated from the real product ratings and experiences from hundreds of thousands of people using the Jointly app.
With Jointly, you can shop your top-rated products, and save lists of your favorites to share and bring to your local dispensary to help guide your shopping experience.
The Jointly app also helps you improve your cannabis experiences by uncovering what’s working and what’s not with reflections and personalized insights. In fact, the quality of your diet, how much you slept, who you’re with, and the time of day are just some of the factors that can impact your cannabis experience.
So if you're ready to find your best products and enjoy your perfect cannabis experience, download the Jointly app today on the App Store or Google Play, or shop your matches on the Jointly website. Discovery awaits.