As research into cannabis marches on as in no other time in history, information, processes and techniques from other industries are proving useful in the evolution of the cannabis industry. Hydrogenation is one of these processes and may prove to be a handy tool in the future of cannabis processing, with some caveats of course.
Hydrogenation occurs when hydrogen is added to a compound or element. It has been widely used for decades as a way to preserve and purify products and create hard fats from oils and softer fats. Hydrogenated vegetable oil, a hard form of vegetable oil, is the most common hydrogenated product.
In the cannabis industry, hydrogenation is most-often used to process delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The cannabinoid is bombarded under pressure by hydrogen, which leads to THC losing its double bond and becoming more stable. The resulting cannabinoid is known as hydrohexahydrocannabinol (HHC), and it’s incredibly stable thanks to the hydrogenation.
In contrast, unprocessed THC is highly unstable and is extremely sensitive to light and heat. Without extreme care, THC will rapidly degrade into cannabinol (CBN), which is much less psychoactive than THC.
The butter-margarine analogy is helpful here. Essentially, unprocessed THC would be the butter (extremely sensitive to heat and oxygen), and the HHC would be the margarine, a product with a lengthy shelf life.
As you can imagine, HHC has piqued the interest of many players in the industry who immediately understand the cost-saving implications of HHC. Storing and preserving the many forms of THC (hash, flower, etc) can be expensive and is generally always a recurring outflow of money. With HHC, this expense can potentially be lowered significantly.
However, there are some drawbacks to hydrogenating THC. Firstly, THC is not the only cannabis compound of interest. There are many others, such as other cannabinoids and terpenes. These compounds are also unstable, and once exposed to air, light and heat, they will degrade. In other words, most THC products will need protection from heat and light regardless of hydrogenation in order protect the other valuable compounds in play.
Secondly, hydrogenation has proven to be a health concern for society. Hydrogenating oils and fats creates trans fats, and these trans fats increase the risk of death in the population. Now, there is no research that hydrogenating cannabis will cause a similar effect. However, the precedent set by hydrogenating oils and fats should cause some concern.
As the industry evolves, hydrogenation will be further investigated as a possible way to help preserve cannabis.