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Estonian Ministry of Social Affairs bans handling of HHC cannabis

30.01.2023 - The Ministry of Social Affairs has sent for approval a draft adding HHC (hexahydrocannabinol) to the list of narcotic and psychotropic substances. The amendment aims to limit the wider distribution and availability of HHC as it poses a serious threat to public health. Henceforth, handling this substance will be illegal and punishable. It is already illegal to add HHC to e-cigarette liquid.

"HHC, a new psychoactive substance that entered the European market last year, has health effects similar to other cannabinoids. However, the long-term health consequences of using the substance are unknown," said Kristiin Mikko, adviser at the Public Health Department of the Ministry of Social Affairs. "Considering the general lack of awareness among users of the potential health risks of the substance, its widespread use across Europe, including in Estonia through various internet channels, and the strong interest in marketing the substance in Estonia, it is important to limit the availability of the substance in order to protect public health."

The proposal to add HHC cannabis to the list of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances was made by the Medicines Agency. "As no clinical studies have been conducted with HHC, its properties and toxicological profile are unknown. The origin, exact composition and purity of products containing HHC are also mostly unknown. Among other things, there is a serious risk of overdosing for users of the substance, as the so-called safe doses are not known," said Kristi Tõnisson, a specialist in the supervisory department of the Medicines Agency. The Agency is basing its proposal on information provided by the Estonian Forensic Science Institute and on risk signals on HHC from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction and other countries.

According to the Tax and Customs Board, ordering from abroad has become massive. "In the course of postal and courier inspections carried out in the summer and autumn of last year, we detected several cases of people trying to order HHC from abroad," said Raul Koppelmaa, head of the drug unit of the Tax and Customs Board's investigation department. "At the end of the year, the number of cases increased significantly and the quantities ordered increased, which is why we asked to add HHC to the list of narcotic and psychotropic substances at the earliest opportunity, in order to limit the wider distribution and availability of this harmful substance." According to Koppelmaa, the tax and customs authorities regularly monitor cross-border trade and urge people not to spoil their future by sending these postal items.

The new psychoactive substance HHC (hexahydrocannabinol) is a semi-synthetic cannabinoid that can be produced synthetically and is also present in small amounts in cannabis plants. HHC first appeared on the European drug market in autumn 2022. According to the Early Warning System of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), the substance has spread rapidly and has been detected in at least twelve EU countries within a few months.

HHCs are increasingly being submitted to the Estonian Forensic Institute for analysis. The Tax and Customs Board has confiscated HHC from postal consignments arriving from the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Poland, and the Police and Border Guard Board has confiscated HHC from private individuals in Tallinn and Jõgeva County. HHC has been found in the form of gumdrops, flower buds and plant chips.

The Ministry of Social Affairs, the Estonian Medicines Agency and the Estonian Tax and Customs Board remind that it is already illegal to add HHC to e-liquid, as according to the Tobacco Act, e-cigarette liquids must not contain substances that are dangerous to human health in unheated or heated form.

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Apr 17, 2023

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