There are so many different types of plants that look like weed, and it's not exactly easy to tell the difference between them all. Some of these so-called cannabis plants have done more than enough to fool law enforcement officers and regular people alike who try to use them as excuses to avoid fines or legal consequences. So which plants look like cannabis? There are a couple of dozens of these plants. However, we're going to narrow it down to fifteen that you should know if you want to avoid getting into trouble over your stash in the future.
Have you ever seen a plant that looked suspiciously like weeds or a type of cannabis you don't recognize? It's not as uncommon as you might think! Several plants look very similar to the cannabis plant, which makes it easy to see why people get confused by them.
To help you out, we've compiled this list of plants that look similar to the weed plant but are entirely different. We also provide pictures of these plants so you can identify them on your own in the future.
What is Weed / Cannabis and Why does it Matter?
"Weed" refers to a group of three plants—Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis—known for their psychoactive properties. These plants contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), responsible for the "high" of cannabis use.
In addition to THC, weed plants also include more than 100 other cannabinoids, including CBD, CBN, and CBG. These compounds interact with the body's endocannabinoid system, regulating various physiological processes, including pain perception, appetite, and mood.
Although CBD is non-psychoactive, it has been shown to have several therapeutic benefits, including reducing inflammation and anxiety. Because of this, weeds and cannabinoids have become an active area of research that could help with many medical problems.
Ways To Identify Cannabis Leaves
Anyone who's ever seen a weed plant knows that its leaves are distinctive. But for those new to hemp, learning how to identify cannabis leaves can be a helpful skill. After all, not all hemp plants are created equal. Understanding the differences between them is key to choosing the right one for your needs.
Cannabis leaves typically have five to nine leaflets, and they are arranged in a fan-like shape. The leaflets are serrated, and they often have a deep green color—a small stalk in the center of each leaflet, known as a petiole.
The petiole is where the leaf attaches to the stem of the plant. Each leaf also has a central vein running down its center. This vein is typically darker than the rest of the leaf. Weed leaves can also be identified by their pistils. These are small, hair-like structures that protrude from the leaflets. Pistils are tan or red in color and aid in plant reproduction by catching pollen from male plants.
Cannabis plants also have two different types of leaves: fan leaves and sugar leaves. Fan leaves are larger and more rounded than sugar leaves, and they grow along the plant's main stem. On the other hand, sugar leaves are smaller and grow closer to the buds.
Confusing Plants That Look Like Cannabis
Most of us know exactly what it is when we see weed. But for some people, identifying plants can be confusing, especially if you're new to gardening or landscaping, as there are many plants that, at first glance, look like cannabis. But upon closer observation, these plants are quite different.
Here are a few examples of confusing plants that look like weed:
Coral plant (Jatropha multifida)
This plant bears a striking resemblance to cannabis. It has slender, green, and brown leaves that grow from a single point (the end of a branch). If you don't look too closely, its small white flowers could also be mistaken for those of cannabis.
However, if you get close enough to smell it, there is no mistaking it: its scent is similar to burnt rubber or cat urine. The coral plant grows in warm climates around Australia and Asia.
It is widely used as an ornamental plant for landscaping and has some medicinal uses. It is used to treat burns, skin irritations, open wounds, and corns (plantar warts). It is also believed to bring about urination in bedridden patients in Chinese medicine.
Spider flowers (Cleome spp.)
This plant grows wild all over North America, with a deep red spider in its center. People often mistake it for cannabis due to its drug-like appearance and similarity to weed plants. The spider flower is a member of the mustard family and is related to radishes, turnips, and cabbage. It grows best in full sun and well-drained soil.
This plant has a long history of medicinal use. The Choctaw and Cherokee Indians treated snake bites, while the Blackfoot Indians used them as a poultice for wounds. The plant is also said to have diuretic, expectorant, and abortifacient properties.
Scarlet Hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus)
Scarlet hibiscus is also known as red sorrel, which comes from its tart taste and red stems. While it is a member of the Hibiscus genus, it does not have any psychoactive effects. This plant is often mistaken for cannabis due to its similarity in appearance, especially when it is not in bloom.
The scarlet hibiscus can grow wild in tropical and subtropical regions worldwide. The key difference between scarlet hibiscus and weed is that the former has red flowers while the latter has white flowers.
This plant has a long history of use in traditional medicine. The leaves treat fevers, while the roots treat urinary disorders. The plant is also said to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anticancer properties.
Kenaf (Hibiscus cannabinus)
A weedy plant with bright red flowers, Hibiscus cannabinus, may look like cannabis, but it's a close relative of okra. When dried and crushed, its leaves and stems can be used to make rope or fabric. The plant is native to Africa but grows in tropical and subtropical regions worldwide.
Kenaf has a long history of use in traditional medicine. The leaves treat fever, diarrhea, and dysentery, while the roots are used to treat urinary disorders. In addition, the plant is said to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anticancer properties.
Chaste Tree (Vitex agnus-castus)
While Chaste Tree can look very similar to cannabis, it has a slightly different smell. Chaste trees and weed plants are often confused because they share some visual similarities. For example, both plants have serrated leaves and small white flowers. However, the two plants are not related.
The chaste tree is a member of the Verbenaceae family, including plants such as teak and lemon verbena. This flowering plant, also known as monk's pepper, grows in rocky Mediterranean-type climates. In contrast to cannabis plants, chaste trees bear white or pink flowers and red berries.
It also doesn't have any psychoactive properties, unlike weed. The Chaste tree has a long history of use in traditional medicine and is said to have several health benefits. These include easing the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), helping nursing mothers produce more breast milk, and making the skin healthier.
Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum)
This pretty tree has five-lobed leaves that make it look like a marijuana plant from a distance. In addition to its misleading appearance, Acer palmatum is considered invasive in many areas due to its fast growth and tendency to overtake other vegetation. This tree is native to Asia but can now be found in North America, Europe, and Australia.
The key difference between Japanese maple and cannabis is that the former often has red or purple leaves while the latter has green leaves. The leaves are smaller than a cannabis plant, and the tree does not produce any flowers. The Japanese maple is a famous ornamental tree often used in landscaping.
Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus)
Okra is a flowering plant in the mallow family. It is valued for its edible green seed pods, commonly known as okra, which, when pickled, are called okra pods. At first glance, okra and weed may look quite similar. However, upon closer inspection, there are some key differences.
For example, okra has five-lobed leaves, while cannabis leaves have seven or more lobes. Okra also has large white or yellow flowers, while weed plants have small green or purple flowers. This plant is native to tropical Asia and Africa but now grows worldwide in tropical and subtropical regions.
Okra has a long history of use in traditional medicine and is said to have several health benefits. Some of these are the ability to lower blood sugar, make digestion better, and boost the immune system.
Cassava (Manihot esculenta)
Cassava, also known as manioc, is a woody shrub that originated in South America. Although it can grow up to 10 ft (3 m) tall and sometimes produces small white flowers, cassava is not considered cannabis. Though they may look similar, cassava and cannabis plants are quite different.
For example, cassava has large lobed leaves, while cannabis leaves are smaller and more delicate. Cassava also does not produce any flowers or buds. The plant is an excellent source of carbohydrates and is used to make flour, bread, and other food items.
It is also used to make alcohol and is a popular ingredient in many traditional dishes. Cassava has a long history of use in traditional medicine and is said to have several health benefits. These include improving digestion, boosting the immune system, and lowering blood sugar levels.
Muster-John-Henry (Tagetes minuta)
The Muster-John-Henry is a perennial shrub that is native to Mexico and Guatemala. It grows in moist, shady areas at the height of between 2000–5000 ft (600–500 m). At first glance, MJH may look like a type of cannabis plant, but there are some key differences upon closer inspection.
For example, MJH has small, yellow flowers, while cannabis plants have small, green, or purple flowers. MJH also has deeply divided leaves, while cannabis leaves are more delicate.
This plant is used in traditional Mexican medicine to treat various conditions. These include stomachaches, diarrhea, and fevers. MJH is also said to have insecticidal properties and is often used as a natural pesticide.
Sweetfern (Comptonia peregrina)
Although sweetferns resemble cannabis at first glance, they are deciduous shrubs native to North America. Sweetferns also have a distinct smell that is similar to cannabis. However, if you take a closer look, you will notice that sweetferns have small, scale-like leaves that grow in pairs along the stem.
The leaves are green in the spring and summer but turn red or brown in the fall. Sweetferns are often used as ornamental plants and for landscaping. They can also be used to make tea, as a herbal remedy, or create a natural insecticide.
Mint (Mentha spp.)
Though they may look similar, mint and cannabis are two very different plants. Mint leaves have a serrated (toothed) edge, while cannabis leaves have a smooth edge. Mint also has a strong, unmistakable minty smell, while weeds have a more pungent, earthy aroma.
Additionally, the flowers of mint are arranged in clusters, while those of cannabis are arranged in spikes. Finally, mint leaves grow in opposite pairs on the stem, while cannabis leaves alternate along the stem.
Mint is a popular herb used in many cuisines around the world. It is also used to make tea, cosmetics, and essential oils. Some studies have shown that mint may have health benefits such as improving digestion, relieving nausea and headaches, and boosting immunity.
Sunn Hemp (Crotalaria juncea)
Sunn hemp and cannabis are often confused because of their similarities in appearance. Both plants have long, thin leaves that are green with serrated edges. However, there are some notable differences between these two plant species.
For example, sun hemp leaves are slightly hairy, while weed leaves are not. Sunn hemp also has yellow flowers (cannabis has white or light green flowers), and its stems are reddish. This plant is native to India but can be found in tropical and subtropical regions worldwide.
Sunn hemp is used for various purposes, including a green manure crop, animal feed, and fiber crop. It is also used in the production of bioplastics and biofuels. In some parts of the world, it is used to make rope, cloth, and paper.
Oregano (Oreganum spp.)
Oregano is a herb that is popular in Italian and Greek cooking. While oregano and weed may appear similar, their flowers distinguish them. Oregano has white or purple flowers, while weeds have small, greenish-white flowers. The leaves of oregano are also more pointy than those of weeds. Oregano is native to temperate Eurasia and the Mediterranean.
Oregano is a common ingredient in many dishes, such as pizza and pasta sauce. It is also used to flavor oils, vinegar, and salad dressings. Oregano has many medicinal uses and is thought to be a natural antibiotic. It is used to treat respiratory infections, stomach upset, and menstrual cramps.
Cranberry Hibiscus (Hibiscus acetosella)
While they may resemble each other at first glance, the cranberry hibiscus (Hibiscus acetosella) is not related to cannabis. This perennial shrub is a member of the mallow family (Malvaceae), including hollyhocks, okra, and cotton. It is native to Africa, growing in hot, dry climates.
The plant has reddish-brown stems and deeply lobed leaves that are often mistaken for those of cannabis. However, its flowers are much larger than those of cannabis, and they bloom in shades of crimson, pink, or white.
The cranberry hibiscus is used as a food source and traditional medicine in Africa. The leaves and flowers are eaten as greens, while the berries are used to make jams, jellies, and wines. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the plant treats indigestion, diarrhea, and dysentery.
Texas Star Hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus)
The Texas star hibiscus and cannabis plants are often confused because they have similar leaves. These leaves are large, lobed, and green with serrated edges. The flowers of the Texas star hibiscus are also identical to those of cannabis, being bright red with yellow centers.
However, there are some critical points to isolating Texas star hibiscus from cannabis. Firstly, the flowers of Texas star hibiscus grow in pairs along the stem, whereas cannabis flowers grow solitary or in clusters of three. Secondly, the Texas star hibiscus has a woody stem, whereas the stem of weeds is green and herbaceous (soft).
The Texas Star Hibiscus is native to the southeastern United States, where it grows in moist soils along streams and swamps. It is a popular ornamental plant used in landscaping, especially in butterfly gardens.