FRANCE is set to become the latest European country to ban the increasingly prevalent semi-synthetic cannabinoid and ‘legal high’ hexahydrocannabinol, better known as HHC.
The ban, which is expected to be implemented in the coming weeks, will make France the 11th European country to take action to either ban or regulate the new substance this year.
It comes just weeks after the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) published a new report on the substance, which warned that it has now been reported in 20 EU member states and Norway, but at the time of writing was ‘not controlled’ in most of them.
Despite the growing international crackdown, the ease at which the substance can be created using legally sold CBD and hemp mean its regulation still threatens to have an impact on wider parts of the cannabis industry.
In January this year, Business of Cannabis first reported that the EMCDDA had hosted its first ‘technical expert meeting’ on HHC, warning member states that it represented ‘the first major new change in the market for “legal” replacements to cannabis since Spice emerged in Europe just over 15 years ago’
The EMCDDA has been tracking the substance via the EU Early Warning System (EWS) since October 2022, and the substance continues to be sold openly as a ‘legal’ alternative to controlled cannabis and THC products.
According to its report, published on April 17 2023, which it says is aimed at providing an ‘authoritative first overview of what is known so far’, HHC was first identified in Europe in May 2022, and by December had been identified in 70% of member states.
Since first being flagged as a New Psychoactive Substance (NPS), around 50 seizures of the substance across the EU have been reported by police and customs agencies, seeing 70.7kg of products containing HHC confiscated (28.8kg of low-THC flower on which HHC is sprayed, 25.5kg of resin and 15.5kg of liquid).
Initial monitoring of HHC products online suggest that prices are roughly in line with similar products on the illicit market, around €6-€10 per gram of flower.
While the origin of many of these products was unknown, the US was found to be the most common country of manufacture by a significant margin, more than twice the amount of the next most common country, the Netherlands.
According to the EMCDDA, informal reports ‘suggests that HHC’s availability and use in Europe is likely much greater than suggested by seizures reported so far through the EWS.’
Although HHC has been known about since the 1940’s, there have been no documented human pharmacological or toxicological studies conducted, though the EMCDDA suggest this should be a priority given the compound’s prevalence.
Information is also scarce relating to the specific manufacturing methods of HHC, though two basic approaches have been identified, the first of which is thought to rely on industrial hemp-derived CBD.
“In short, CBD is a ‘pre-precursor’ with Δ8-THC being the immediate precursor to HHC.”
Though regulation has so far struggled to keep pace with the rapid spread of HHC throughout Europe, 11 countries are now thought to have taken action to control it.
Below we have constructed a timeline of HHC regulation since the EMCDDA’s ‘technical expert meeting’ at the end of 2022.
- January 17 – The Czech Republic’s National Anti-Drug coordinator Jindřich Vobořil, responding to reports that the ‘Czech internet had been flooded by HHC’, had prepared a draft proposal to regulate the substance. His team created a draft list of ‘psycho-mutant agents’, new compounds which have low to medium risk, with the recommendation they be strictly regulated, but that there is no ‘reason to necessarily ban it’.
- April 14 – In a significant departure from Mr Vobořil’s stance, the country’s National Anti-Drug Headquarters and the Ministry of Defense, supported by the Ministry of Health, put forward proposals to include HHC in the list of addictive substances starting from July 2023.
- May 10 – According to the EU Commission’s TRIS database, the Czech Republic put forward a draft regulation to add HHC and tetrahydrocannabiforol (THCP) to the list of controlled substances, excluding industrial hemp and hemp extract.
- January 19 – Iceland invoked emergency rules to have HHC and THCO removed from the market immediately, as it notified the EU Commission that it had tabled a bill to add the cannabinoids to the list of controlled substances, marking it the first country in Europe to attempt to include HHC in its narcotics regime.
- January 30 – Weeks later, an amendment to the country’s narcotics list was issued to include both substances.
- February 01 – A day later, Estonia became the first country in the European Union to follow suit, issuing a bill to include HHC in its list of psychotropic drugs.
- February 08 – Austria’s opposition party tabled a motion calling on the government to include HHC in its ‘New Pyschoactive Substances Ordinance’ (NPSO), stating that making products available through legal loopholes posed ‘enormous risks’.
- February 28 – The Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection put forward a draft amendment to the NPSO to include HHC on the banned list.
- March 23 – Media reports confirmed that HHC had now been included on the list of banned substances, and its sale including left over stock was subsequently prohibited.
- April 04 – The Swiss Federal Department of Home Affairs announced an amendment to its own narcotics and psychotropics legislation, seeing HHC and 10 other substances banned.
- April 06 – Poland announced plans to the European Commission that it intended to add HHC-O, an acetate version of HHC to its list of narcotics, and confirmed that it already listed HHC as a narcotic, though the date is unknown.
- April 17 – Sweden’s Public Health agency announced that another cannabinoid H4-CBD had now been added to the list of substances under investigation, while confirming the HHC was added in October 2022. While this does not mean the substances are banned, it does mean the body has submitted a request for their classification.
- April 20 – Bulgaria’s National Drugs Council said it would draw up a bill to ban the production, trade, possession and use of HHC, classifying it alongside THC as a Schedule 1 substance.
- May 02 – While it is understood that no concrete proposals have been put forward to parliament, the Danish Health Minister told local press that she was planning to ban HHC, stating that when new substances appear that turn out to be dangerous, ‘we must react’.
- April 28 – A parliamentary question on whether HHC would soon be banned by the government was raised by France’s Republican Group.
- May 15 – François Braun, the country’s Health Minister told local media that while HHC was not currently classified as a narcotic, ‘I honestly think it will be soon’, with regulation from the National Agency for the Safety of Medicines and Health Products (ANSM) expected shortly.