5 plants that could be mistaken for cannabis

Published: February 26, 2020 · Updated: August 28, 2020

Leaves of cassava plant. Cassava is the third largest source of food carbohydrates in the tropics after rice and maize, cannabis similarities Photo by Grey Carnation/Shutterstock

Nothing delivers a high quite like cannabis, but there are a few look-a-like plants out there. So before you raid the conservatory or your neighbour’s greenhouse, brush up on the identifying markers of marijuana and some of its common imposters.

The easiest way to identify cannabis is by its distinctive leaves. Biologists describe them as palmately compound with serrate leaflets. Translation: the leaves are hand-like with lobes or fingers stemming from the leaf base. Each of these fingers, known as leaflets, have jagged edges. Cannabis plants typically sprout seven to nine narrow leaflets branching from the end of the stem.

And the pretenders are:

Chaste tree
Some say cannabis is the plant of love, in which case the chaste tree is the exact opposite. Monks used extracts from the seed of this Mediterranean plant to decrease libido.

chaste tree, cannabis similarities
Photo by Simona Pavan/Shutterstock

What’s the same?
When the chaste tree is young, its five to seven narrow leaflets are the same shape as cannabis leaves.

What’s different?
Like the name suggests, the chaste tree grows much taller—up to 15 feet—than cannabis, and its leaflets have smooth edges. The giveaway, though, is the stalk of lavender flowers that also grows from the tree.

Hibiscus
A couple varieties of this common flower and indoor plant resemble cannabis, particularly Texas star and kenaf. Kenaf even shares a Latin name with cannabis: hibiscus cannabinus.

Kenaf or Hibiscus cannabinus, Deccan hemp, Java jute
Photo by Doikanoy/Shutterstock

What’s the same?
These varieties of hibiscus have similar narrow and rough leaves.

What’s different?
The leaves are droopier, and all hibiscus produce showy flowers.

Japanese maple
This variety of maple is delicate in size and leaf shape compared to our national syrup producer. It’s popular as a decorative garden tree or shrub.

Japanese green maple leaves in summer
Photo by Hinochika/Shutterstock

What’s the same?
In the spring, the Japanese maple has narrow, rough-edged green leaves.

What’s different?
The Japanese maple is a much woodier and stocky plant, plus, the leaflets share a wide base before breaking into individual points. Oh, and the leaves turn bright red by summer.

Coral plant
A showy, ornamental shrub from the Caribbean, the entire plant is mildly poisonous. The red clustered flower is popular with florists.

Jatropha multifida in bloom
Photo by Simona Pavan/Shutterstock

What’s the same?
The palm-shaped leaves have seven to 11 lobes, just like cannabis.

What’s different?
The beautiful flower, for one. The leaves are also longer and bigger than cannabis, and the stems are thicker.

Cassava
Also known as manioc and yuca, cassava’s tuber root is the third most important food carbohydrate in the tropics after maize and rice, and it feeds an estimated 500 million people.

Leaves of cassava plant. Cassava is the third largest source of food carbohydrates in the tropics after rice and maize
Photo by Grey Carnation/Shutterstock

What’s the same?
The palmated leaves have multiple stems branching from a single base.

What’s different?
The leaf edges are smooth, and they have a thicker vein running down the centre of each leaflet. The leaves are also bigger in proportion to the rest of the plant.

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