Cannabis synthetic ‘Spice’ has been the center of controversy for many years, with government lines saying its highly dangerous, but its massive ubiquitous nature (and the lack of any real issues), saying otherwise. Where did this synthetic compound come from? And how is it related to cannabis synthetic HHC?
Cannabis synthetic compounds like HHC and Spice are available for those who want to try them, but users should beware of where they get their products from. On the other hand, plenty of companies are selling more above board products like delta-8 THC, which is a naturally occurring alternative to delta-9, which creates less psychoactive effect, and produces less anxiety, making it preferable for many people. Make sure to subscribe to The Delta 8 Weekly Newsletter for exclusive deals on Delta 8, Delta 10, THCV, and THCO, and to find out which THC is best for you.
What is HHC?
The reason I’m starting with the cannabis synthetic HHC, is because it happens to be the newest cannabis compound to make it to the public. In the last couple years, tons of cannabis compounds have made an appearance on the pubic stage, to varying levels of interest. For the most part, many of these compounds are found to be interesting, but haven’t done much to drive sales extensively. Some of this is probably because of shaky legal ground, and some of it is probably because the compounds themselves appear in small amounts only, and often require synthetization techniques that go far beyond basic extractions.
There are different kinds of compounds that have come to the public’s attention of late. Other delta-THCs like delta-8 and delta-10. Other cannabinoids like CBL, CBC, and CBN. And a range of synthetics like THC-O-Acetate, and now HHC. What is this last one? Well, it’s actual name is a long one: 9-Nor-9β-hydroxyhexahydrocannabinol. Quite a mouthful, huh? And it’s a synthetic cannabinoid derivative, which came from when THC was being studied early on, and modifications were made to its structure. The goal had been to find the simplest compounds that could still bind to receptors and produce a response. HHC is therefore a more simplified version of delta-9, and closely related to it.
HHC compounds have been studied a little, but not a huge amount is known about them. Interested parties can check out studies like this one to gain a little more info, but for the most part, very little exists in the medical world to speak of. This has not stopped the compound from being sold, although whether this is a good idea or not, is certainly debatable.
What is Spice?
‘Spice’ is a term to designate a synthetic cannabinoid, not unlike any other synthetic cannabinoid that we speak about on this site. Synthetics bind to the same receptors, creating essentially, the same response in users, which is often why a user won’t know if they’re using a natural compound, or a synthetic. Honestly, I’ve smoked plenty of black market vapes which I know were some kind of synthetic, and I found very little difference.
Since the majority of synthetics were designed off of delta-9, they act as agonists at receptor sites, meaning they promote a response. Sometimes, the synthetics have even stronger binding abilities than their naturally occurring counterparts. There isn’t just one kind of synthetic. In fact, there are several classes of synthetic cannabinoids that are given names based on structural attributes, though in the past they were named in different ways, often by the place where they were found.
If you’ll notice, none of this is specific to the term ‘Spice’, as ‘Spice’ is simply a name used to denote ‘synthetic cannabinoids’. Just like it’s other well-known name, K2. These are simply street names, and do not denote a specific synthetic necessarily.
What’s the connection between cannabis synthetic HHC and Spice?
So how is the synthetic cannabis compound HHC related to synthetic cannabinoids considered Spice? Good question. HHC was studied a bit when it was first found, and even went through animal testing which showed it to be a safe compound. However, it never caught on, and it never developed into any kind of pharmaceutical product. That might have been the end of the story, except that about 25 years after HHC was being studied, a derivative of it was found out on the street as the main ingredient in synthetic cannabis being sold.
This derivative, considered obscure at the time (though not so much now), is called cannabicyclohexanol, or (C8)-CP 47,497. Where did it come from, though? Was it made for the street specifically in some basement lab? Not at all. This compound was made by the pharmaceutical company Pfizer in 1979. In 2009, a German report came out saying that it had found an analog to CP 47,497, and that it was being used in an incense product called ‘Spice’.
Obviously, Pfizer never did anything with this compound, which isn’t terribly weird considering how many compounds were created and studied, just to be tossed aside, much like HHC. And much like synthetic HHC, it made a name for itself not by being used by the company that found it, but as a street drug. HHC was not found to be dangerous in testing, so the idea it wasn’t used for safety issues, doesn’t seem to be the case. And considering how widespread Spice is, and how few problems there are related to it, it also would appear to be generally safe, although the government has certainly put a lot of effort into having you think otherwise, probably because its a synthetic not being profited from by big pharma.
Are synthetics dangerous?
This is an interesting question, and requires a bit of critical thinking and general logic. Now if you ask the US government, it’ll tell you ‘yes’. Of course, the US government also likes to say that there’s an ‘epidemic’ of vape deaths, which actually only equals 68 confirmed deaths over nearly 20 years of time – which is laughable compared to the 480,000 that die a year from smoking cigarettes. If anything, their attempt to demonize vaping really only highlights what a safe alternative it is. In fact, the best the government has actually been able to do, is point the finger at vitamin-e-acetate and/or other additives, which don’t have anything directly to do with the cannabis plant.
Dealing with synthetics is similar. While the US government – and other governments around the world that bow to big pharma – like to go on about how dangerous ‘Spice’ and ‘K2’ are, and how synthetics are bad, it has no problem allowing synthetics that pharmaceutical companies profit off of. Perhaps the reason the Spice synthetic is so badly demonized, is nothing more than saltiness on the part of a pharmaceutical company that lost out on the profits.
There have been stories about people getting sick from synthetics like Spice. In 2016, about 70 people in Connecticut ‘overdosed’ on synthetic cannabinoids. Only, it had nothing to do with the synthetic cannabinoids, but, rather, the fact that the synthetic marijuana was laced with what they thought was fentanyl. Kind of a big difference. In the same year, about 300 people in the Washington DC area had a similar result. And this too was due to contaminated products. Now the thing about synthetics of this nature, is that they aren’t themselves plant material, but generally a liquid solution that can be sprayed on plant material to create a marijuana-like substance.
When I lived in Tel Aviv about 10-11 years ago, a synthetic dubbed ‘Mr. Niceguy’ became very popular. If it was really that dangerous, there would be an entire dead city, as we were all smoking it, partly because at the time, regular cannabis was hard to find. On the other hand, I myself had a very negative experience with another brand that came out a bit later, and which stopped me from using these products again. Basically, I got very sick from smoking it.
It could have been a pesticide, or fentanyl, or who knows what. Whatever gave me that reaction, was certainly not related to cannabis, either synthetic or regular. And that seems to be the case with most/all of the injuries mentioned, meaning just like with vapes, the danger issue has nothing to do with the cannabis plant, or the synthetics made from it. It also makes it highly unethical, and misleading, that the government publicizes big statements about the dangers of such compounds, when the danger has nothing to do with the plant. In fact, I have yet to see a complaint or death count associated with the actual plant, or the synthetics made directly from it.
In another story also from 2016, many people in New York had to be hospitalized after smoking a synthetic called AMB-FUBINACA, which was also made by Pfizer in 2009. It was somehow decided that this was because the synthetic had caused it to happen, since a metabolite was found in all the people hospitalized. And while it almost sounds like it could mean that this really was caused by a dangerous synthetic, it also happens to be that this particular synthetic, was the one most found in drug seizures in 2017, and part of 2018, indicating extremely wide use, and pointing to the idea that the New York issue was likely not about the synthetic cannabinoids, but something added in, like in the other cases. Otherwise, the New York story would have been an everywhere story, and it wasn’t.
In 2017-2018 there were also about 60 deaths in New Zealand, but once again, this wasn’t an ongoing issue, but something isolated in a specific time period, indicating once again that the issue related to specific batches, and not the synthetics. The same synthetics are still out there, so without added issues, it clears the synthetics of being the cause of the problem.
Does this mean a synthetic can’t be dangerous? Some might be, but it doesn’t look like that’s what has caused any issues thus far. If so, the problem would be more continuous, and not in isolated incidents in isolated locations. When someone cuts a batch of heroin with fentanyl and people die, it doesn’t mean all heroin will do that (although its also really not a good idea to do heroin). But what it does mean, is that that particular batch will cause problems to whoever uses it. This is the same concept. And much like in tainted heroin cases, the problem shows up in an isolated place, and then isn’t an issue anymore.
For me, the bigger concerns are making synthetics of compounds that don’t actually exist in nature, because then it becomes hard to know how it will behave in nature. And the idea that harsh chemicals could be used in the production of these compounds for which there is no regulation.
To me, one of the more interesting aspects of Spice, and cannabis synthetic HHC, is that they were created by pharmaceutical companies which chose not to use them, just to have them swiped out from under, to be sold illegally with no gain to the companies. I like to think of that as poetic justice for a pharmaceutical company. And in a sort-of coming full circle way, not only is Spice being sold out there, but so is its predecessor HHC.
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Disclaimer: Hi, I’m a researcher and writer. I’m not a doctor, lawyer, or businessperson. All information in my articles is sourced and referenced, and all opinions stated are mine. I am not giving anyone advise, and though I am more than happy to discuss topics, should someone have a further question or concern, they should seek guidance from a relevant professional.