Hydrogenation is a relatively simple form of synthesis that involves adding hydrogen atoms to existing natural or synthetic compounds. There are various ways that hydrogenation can improve a compound from purification to solidification to preservation.
When you hydrogenate cannabinoids, though, something somewhat unexpected happens: They become more potent. Is the potency increase offered by hydrogenated cannabinoids like H4CBD worth it, however, and what added risks might these synthesized forms of cannabinoids pose? Learn the basics in this guide, and click here to learn more.
What Are Hydrogenated Cannabinoids?
Hydrogenated cannabinoids are cannabinoids that have been fused with additional hydrogen atoms, resulting in a new chemical structure. Theoretically, quite a large number of hydrogen atoms could be added to cannabinoids, but most processes stick with sets of just two or four.
The process of hydrogenating cannabinoids is largely the same as the hydrogenation process used in the food industry. As is the case, though, whenever you’re adding a substance to cannabinoids — even a substance as simple as hydrogen — your chances of contamination rise, and to this day, nobody truly knows how hydrogenated cannabinoids affect the human body.
Examples of Hydrogenated Cannabinoids
Theoretically, practically every natural cannabinoid could be augmented via hydrogenation. The practice has only actually been carried out, though, in the context of the following three substances:
Now one of the most well-known hydrogenated cannabinoids, H4CBD is an alteration of CBD that contains four additional hydrogen atoms. Various sources have stated, with absolutely zero evidence, that H4CBD is “100 times stronger” than CBD.
The limited available research on the cannabinoid, however, does not indicate this to be the case whatsoever. On the contrary, there is only unconfirmed evidence that H4CBD may interact with your CB1 neuroreceptors, something CBD does not do.
So, H4CBD may have 100 times or even more affinity than CBD for your CB1 receptors (the primary receptors targeted by THC), but that doesn’t mean the characteristic effects of CBD are strengthened. Instead, hydrogenating CBD seems to make it more like THC.
Discovered in the 1940s, hexahydrocannabinol (HHC) is one of the most well-known synthetic cannabinoids within the scientific community, and it has recently started making its way to the consumer market. HHC has two major isomers, one of which is believed to have increased potency over THC while the other offers potency roughly similar to THC.
The safety of HHC remains unknown, and HHC producers appear to be rather sloppy in their manufacturing methods. The upside of the gamble is that HHC is believed to offer around three times the potency of THC, but that’s all based on anecdotal evidence, not clinical or laboratory studies. Consider HHC to be the THC equivalent of H2CBD since only two hydrogen atoms are added.
CBD has more than one hydrogenated form. The compound with four added hydrogen atoms, H4CBD, has become more popular, but H2CBD, which features only two added hydrogen atoms, is also available.
So far, there don’t appear to be any significant differences between H4CBD and H2CBD aside from their chemical structures. Both hydrogenated cannabinoids appear to interact with your CB1 receptors, and it isn’t clear whether H2CBD or H4CBD offers the most potent effects.
Hydrogenated Cannabinoids vs. Natural Cannabinoids
Compared to their natural equivalents, the main benefit of hydrogenated cannabinoids appears to be increased potency. Whether this potency increase is relevant to those who experience it, however, remains to be determined by scientific inquiry.
Despite only offering vague improvements, hydrogenated cannabinoids like H4CBD and HHC lose out to their natural counterparts in terms of simplicity and safety. Hydrogen-atom transfer reduction is an expensive process, and if performed inexpertly, it can lead to product contamination.
All in all, the rise of hydrogenated cannabinoids appears to be a poorly thought-out attempt to expand the hemp market into additional compounds. There’s simply no justifiable demand for hydrogenated cannabinoids, however, and all the evidence we have shows that they’re worse than the natural equivalent — not to mention the unfortunate truth that hydrogenated cannabinoids are inarguably synthetic.
Are Hydrogenated Cannabinoids Safe?
The safety of hydrogenated cannabinoids is worth examining closely for more reasons than just the word “hydrogenated” being in the name. Yes, hydrogenated oils have gotten a bad name in the food industry over the last decade, but the situation is different when you aren’t consuming a substance in food.
We’ll put it this way: There’s nothing specifically about hydrogenating compounds that improves their safety, and along the way, at least two critical factors appear that can add the possibility of danger where none existed before: The potential of contamination posed by the addition of hydrogen atoms to cannabinoids and the safety of hydrogenated cannabinoids overall.
Certain hydrogenated cannabinoids, like HHC, also appear to occur in certain strains of cannabis in incredibly low quantities. Compared to conventional THC, though, HHC is practically untested and almost always synthesized.
H4CBD, for its part, is certainly not found naturally in Cannabis sativa, making it an inherently synthetic cannabinoid. With normal cannabinoids already doing what we want them to and hydrogenated cannabinoids posing such risks, why would you switch away from normal CBD to begin with?