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Experts Call For HHC To Be Regulated Rather Than Banned

STATES across Europe are continuing to ban hexahydrocannabinol (HHC) at pace as politicians warn that the substance is ‘currently flooding our continent’.

Calls for a blanket European ban on the relatively new, scarcely understood but widely available substance are growing, as are calls to learn the lessons of past prohibition efforts.

Just as it is doing with adult-use cannabis, the Czech Republic is swimming against the tide with HHC, with policy makers pushing for ‘sophisticated legislation’ to regulate HHC and other so-called ‘psychomodulating substances’.

HHC bans

Business of Cannabis reported last month that France was set to become the 11th European state to attempt to ban or heavily control the substance so far this year.

On June 13, France officially moved to amend its list of substances classified as narcotics, to include HHC, and its alternatives HHCP and HHCO.

It came just a day after Sweden’s public health agency similarly announced that HHC and HHCP will be classified as narcotics in the country from July 11, 2023.

This came after the substance was added to the list of substances under investigation in October, with another synthetic cannabinoid H4-CBD also being added in April.

Earlier in June, Hungary also notified the EU that it planned to add HHC, HHCO and HHCP to its list of narcotics, making it the 12th EU country to announce such measures.

Encapsulating the general attitudes towards HHC across the union, French MEP Aurélia Beigneux submitted a parliamentary question to the European Commission this month.

Ms Beigneux said that HHC was ‘currently flooding our continent’ due to how easy it was to access the drug, which was ‘benefitting from a legal limbo’ and ‘causing a great deal of concern among doctors’.

“Far from harmless, HHC is not without risks to consumers’ health: it has many adverse effects on the neurological, cardiovascular and digestive systems and can lead to anxiety and depression,” she continued.

In light of this, she questioned whether the EC planned ‘to ban this highly harmful substance from EU markets’ or to ‘run a prevention campaign for Member states’.

“More generally, how does it intend to combat the emergence and marketing of new synthetic drugs?”

‘Beyond Cannabis’ roundtable

In late May, a panel of doctors, researchers, economists and lawyers from both the Czech Republic and the US gathered in Prague’s historic Brožík Town Hall for an open discussion around HHC, and the current approach to regulation.

Organised by Legalizace.cz in collaboration with the esteemed Think Tank for Rational Addiction Policy and attended by prominent individuals including the Czech Republic’s National Coordinator for Drug Policy Jindřich Vobořil, economist Michael Fanta, and Research Director at the Think Tank for Rational Addiction Policy Viktor Mravčík.

Business of Cannabis has previously reported that Mr Vobořil had prepared a draft proposal to regulate HHC and other ‘psychomodulatory’ substances, rather than ban them outright.

He told local media at the time: “HHC is a synthetic substance that is in the grey area for now. I don’t see a reason to necessarily ban it, but it needs to be strictly regulated, just like cannabis.”

In a significant departure from Mr Vobořil’s stance, the country’s National Anti-Drug Headquarters and the Ministry of Defence, supported by the Ministry of Health, put forward proposals to include HHC in the list of addictive substances starting from July 2023, submitting a draft regulation to the EC in May.

The government’s position, and the wider position across Europe, was a key focus during the debate, seeing speakers advocate passionately for a regulated approach.

HHC could have many benefits 

While the substance is currently severely under-researched, Martin Kuchař, head of the Laboratory of Forensic Analysis of Biologically Active Substances at VŠCHT, told the conference he believed HHC had an ‘interesting potential’ and ‘deserves further investigation’.

“In animal studies, pain-relieving effects have been found that do not impair the processing of sensory information. At the same time, it seems that it does not have mutagenic or toxic effects on the heart, if the person does not suffer from medical predispositions, and does not damage liver cells.”

Business of Cannabis understands that a number of doctors, all experienced in medical cannabis, spoke of their patients who turned to HHC when they were unable to access medical cannabis and found the results to be similar, with all advocating for the substance to be regulated, not banned.

While the panel agreed that there was nowhere near enough research available to guarantee patient safety, doctor and chairman of the board of the Kopac patient association Pavel Kubů said: “The use of HHC in the case of recreational use is not associated with acute or medium-term side effects that would stem from toxicity.”

This was supported by Christopher Ware, director of the American company KCA Laboratories, which has analysed 20,000 samples with HHC over the past two years.

Discussions also focused on the economic potential of a regulated HHC market, but the overarching consensus of the roundtable was that prohibition was a proven dead end.

Lawyer Vojtěch Sucharda said: “By banning HHC, its spread will not disappear, but it will cease to be controllable; new and worse substances will arrive; they will reach children; the quality and toxicity will deteriorate; and the state will not have the means to solve serious drug problems, which currently HHC certainly does not represent.

“The potential is huge. How we can use it in the Czech Republic depends on what kind of barriers we set for ourselves.”

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