Hemp-Derived HHC Products Sold In European Market, EMCDDA Reports

A new report confirms that hemp-derived intoxicating cannabinoid HHC has entered the European market.

For the first time, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) this week published a technical report on hexahydrocannabinol, also known as HHC.

The report highlights that although seizures of HHC are relatively small in scale, these products are gaining attention from consumers.

Such an interest in these products is due to their effects, which are similar to delta-9 THC (or simply THC), the main compound of marijuana, and their legal status.

But before understanding the reasons behind the interest of the EMCDDA in the HCC, it is necessary to explain what this intoxicating hemp-derived cannabinoid is and its status within the legal framework, both in the United States and the European Union (EU).

HHC is a semi-synthetic cannabinoid first described in the scientific literature in 1940, made by combining THC extracted from hemp with hydrogen molecules through a process called hydrogenation that changes THC to HHC.

Although discovered decades ago, HHC gained popularity only when the U.S. 2018 Farm Bill indirectly legalized the cultivation of hemp with a THC level below 0.3% and the extraction of its cannabinoids.

This created a market for natural-occurring, non-intoxicating cannabinoids, such as CBD, as well as intoxicating cannabinoids with mild effects, like delta-8 THC products. Additionally, synthesized cannabinoids, such as THC-O acetate, which have similar or even higher effects than marijuana’s THC, have also emerged in the market.

HHC has been anecdotally reported to have similar intoxicating effects as marijuana’s THC, although little research has been done on this compound.

Hemp-derived cannabinoids with intoxicating effects have become popular in the United States because they are not listed under the Controlled Substance Act, unlike THC.

But although the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) clarified in February that THC-O is to be considered an illegal controlled substance, there are currently no federal regulations for these products, and some U.S. states have even made them illegal.

At the international level, treaties such as the 1961 Single Convention and European drug laws have not yet regulated this category of cannabinoids as they are new in the market.

A recent study showed that these products are more commonly used in U.S. states that have not legalized adult-use marijuana.

As a result, the demand for these intoxicating hemp-derived cannabinoids may be an attractive choice also for European consumers who want to experience the effects of marijuana legally or in a gray area of the law, as no European country has legalized the sale of adult-use marijuana yet.

While the HCC’s phenomenon was initially limited to the United States, the EMCDDA report confirms that HHC is also gaining popularity in Europe.

The availability of HHC in the EU was officially confirmed for the first time in May 2022.

However, HHC products were identified in 70% of EU member states between May and December 2022.

These products are marketed as a “legal” alternative to cannabis and THC products and are available in various forms, such as branded and unbranded flowers, sprays, tinctures, oils, vape cartridges, and edibles.

As of March 31, 2023, HHC has been identified in 20 EU member states, as well as in Norway and Switzerland, which are not EU members.

However, Finland banned HHC products this month, and Sweden is following.

Since HHC was officially classified as a new psychoactive substance (NPS), the EMCDDA has received around 50 seizure reports through the European Union Early Warning System on new psychoactive substances (EWS). The total amount of products containing HHC seized through these reports is 70.7 kilograms.

Although most of the seizures have been relatively small in scale, the marketing of HHC products has become quite sophisticated. Low-THC cannabis products containing HHC are now being marketed in various attractive and brightly colored designs. Some of these products may even be labeled as “not for human consumption,” while others are sold without any branding at all.

The EMCDDA highlights that because low-THC hemp products with HHC look and smell like illegal marijuana, people may have accidentally or intentionally sold HHC instead of marijuana or mixed HHC with marijuana or CBD products.

“While information is limited, case reports from countries in Europe suggest that HHC is already being mis-sold as illicit cannabis. However, the overall size and scale of this practice is unknown,” the report reads.

The EMCDDA explains that while the size and scale of the retail market for HHC products are unknown, there could potentially be a significant demand for them.

The target market for these products could include people who already use illegal marijuana, CBD consumers who may be attracted to HHC’s legal status, and even new consumers who are curious about its effects.

Although HHC has been known to scientists for over 80 years, no studies have been done on how it affects humans.

Regarding how HHC affects behavior and psychology, it seems to be very similar to how cannabis and other THC products affect individuals.

However, the new ways of using HHC, like vaping or eating it in edibles, may have unexpected adverse effects on people’s mental health that aren’t seen with traditional marijuana products.

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