Three ‘semi-synthetic’ cannabinoids (SSCs) have been identified on the European drug market over the last year, says EMCDDA, which may ‘signal the first major new change in the market for “legal” replacements to cannabis since Spice-type products (containing synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists) emerged in Europe just over 15 years ago’.
The agency has issued a new report on hexahydrocannabinol (HHC), which is synthesised from cannabidiol (CBD) from cannabis plants, and related substances. HHC was identified in Europe in May last year, although it has been mentioned in scientific literature as far back as 1940. EMCDDA has been monitoring it as an NPS for the last six months.
HHC is not controlled in most European countries, although identifications have been reported by 20 EU member states as well as Norway, and the drug has also been found on sale in the US. Two more SSCs, HC acetate (HHC-O) and hexahydrocannabiphorol (HHC-P), have also since been identified in Europe, says EMCDDA.
HHC appears to have ‘broadly similar’ effects to THC, the main psychoactive substance in cannabis, the agency states. The drug is currently sold openly as a cannabis alternative in ‘a range of highly attractive branded and unbranded products’, including edibles, oils, vape pens and e-liquids.
The pharmacological and behavioural effects of HHC in humans have not been studied, although ‘recent anecdotal reports from consumers indicate that its effects might be similar to that of cannabis’, says EMCDDA, with the products’ marketing making comparisons to cannabis and THC.
‘The abuse liability and dependence potential of HHC have not been studied,’ the document says. ‘Data from pharmacological and behavioural experiments with several animal species as well as in vitro studies indicate that HHC shares the pharmacological mechanism of action of the structurally related THC suggesting that it may have abuse liability and dependence potential in humans.’ New consumers – including young and inexperienced people – may be attracted by its legal status, EMCDDA points out, along with its ease of access in high street CBD and vape shops.