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Ways to Identify Marijuana Leaves

finger holding a marijuana leaf against a setting sun

Accurately identifying the leaves of marijuana plants is an important skill set for any cannabis cultivator. To be as succinct as possible: Marijuana leaves tend to be made up of anywhere between three and 13 points — also called “fingers” — with the most mature cannabis varieties containing between five and seven fingers.

You can also identify the type of cannabis plant by the shape of its leaves. The leaves produced from a sprout will appear with only one finger. Indica leaves tend to be wide, short leaves with short, wide blades. Sativa varieties tend to have long leaves with thin, long blades. Depending on the phenotype, hybrid varieties may present as either indica or sativa leaves. And ruderalis leaves tend to have fewer fingers, with three prominent ones.

Aside from their fingers, there are other characteristics to look out for when identifying cannabis leaves accurately.

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How to Identify Marijuana Leaves

Cannabis leaves are usually compound (multiple leaflets as opposed to single leaves growing from the stem) and opposite decussate (leaves are opposite, but each new leaf pair is at a right angle to the last pair). As the plant matures and prepares to flower, the leaves may begin to emerge in an alternate pattern.

Leaf Points

Cannabis can contain between three and 13 leaf points or “fingers.” They tend to be in odd numbers. An indica leaf will usually have 5-7 leaf points. Sativa strains will usually have 7-13 leaf points. And a ruderalis leaf will have 3-5 points, with three prominent ones.


Cannabis leaves do not tend to smell as much as the bud, and it can be difficult to know which variety of cannabis it is from the aroma of the leaf alone.


Cannabis can take on different colors, depending on the environment it was grown in and the genetics used. It is difficult to identify a specific type of cannabis due to the color of the leaves. Still, some may find that colors confer specific effects, as different terpenes and flavonoids may be expressed. Although this is not yet proven, here are some potential effects of different colored cannabis buds based on anecdotal reports:

  • Red: suggests hybridization between indica, sativa, and ruderalis. It may offer balanced head-body effects, but this is not always the case. Some red cannabis varieties include Red Beard, Red Poison Auto, Strawberry Kush, and Panama Red.
  • Pink: may help alleviate pain and insomnia. Pink varieties may be sweet-tasting. They include Pink Kush, Pink Panties, and Pink Berry, among others.
  • Orange: usually indicates the presence of carotenoids, pigments responsible for the orange coloring of vegetables like carrots and yams. Orange hairs and hues indicate more uplifting effects, but this is not always the case. Examples include California Orange Bud, Jilly Bean, and Orange Diesel.
  • Yellow: tends to indicate more citrus flavors and aromas. Tends to be more uplifting and energizing. Yellow cannabis varieties include Lemon Haze, Super Lemon Haze, Strawberry Banana, and Golden Lemon.
  • Blue: tends to be associated with indica varieties of cannabis and more relaxing effects, but this is not always the case. Blue strains include Blueberry, Blue Moonshine, Blue Cookies, and Blue Dream.
  • Purple: tends to indicate the presence of anthocyanins. Purple hues are associated with lavender, where the major smell tends to be one produced by the terpene linalool. Linalool is a relaxing terpene, often associated with indica varieties, but purple colors do not always indicate this.

Buds or Pistils

Indica buds tend to be tighter, bulkier, and dense, whereas sativa buds tend to be looser, less dense, and have a “foxtail” shape.


Plants high in THC are more likely to be covered in a high number of trichomes. Trichomes are usually clear (meaning they were harvested earlier in the flowering cycle), milky (harvested at the ideal point of flowering), or amber (harvested later into flowering).

Nutrient Deficiencies

Nutrient deficiencies can change the appearance of cannabis leaves. For home growers, knowing how to spot nutrient deficiencies is important. If caught early enough, you may be able to save your plant by adding the necessary nutrients to your soil or fertilizer.

Here’s what each deficiency looks like:

  • Nitrogen Deficiency: lightening and then yellowing in older, mature leaves, usually at the base of the plant. Brown spots in the leaf margin. Leaves curl up and drop.
  • Phosphorus Deficiency: purpling of leaf stems on older leaves, with the leaves eventually taking on a dark blue-green hue. Dark, copper-colored spots on leaves.
  • Potassium Deficiency: dull, overly green leaves and burnt-looking, rust-brown leaf tips.
  • Calcium Deficiency: irregular brown-yellow spots and brown borders on the leaves. Lower leaves curl and distort.
  • Magnesium Deficiency: the veins of the older leaves turn yellow, and leaves eventually form rust-colored spots.
  • Sulfur Deficiency: lime-green leaves that eventually turn yellow, followed by dryness and brittleness.
  • Copper Deficiency: wilting and twisted leaves, especially newer leaves.
  • Iron Deficiency: yellowing and browning in between the veins of the leaves, especially at the base of new leaves.
  • Manganese Deficiency: yellowing and browning of new leaves.
  • Molybdenum Deficiency: yellowing of older leaves.
  • Zinc Deficiency: loss of color and yellowing or browning of leaves. Small, thin leaf blades that wrinkle and distort.

Nutrient Burn

Nutrient burn usually occurs as a result of overfeeding the cannabis plant. As nitrogen is the most prominent nutrient in most plant feeds, it is the most common cause of nutrient burn.

Signs include deep green leaves, bright green leaf tips, leaf tips bent at 90°, and stalks and branches becoming a deep red, purple, or magenta. Sugarleaf and calyx tips tend to turn yellow, and leaf tips may also turn yellow. Leaves may curl and turn brown as nutrient burn carries on. The best way to prevent nutrient burn is to not overfeed your plants.

Plants That Look Like Marijuana

Many plants grow leaves (and sometimes buds) that look like cannabis. Some may even belong to the same Cannabacea family but are not Cannabis sativa. Some examples include:

  • Japanese Maple
  • Coral Plant
  • Cranberry Hibiscus (although its red color makes it stand apart from cannabis leaves)
  • Texas Star Hibiscus
  • Kenaf
  • Japanese Hops
  • Cleome Leaf
  • Tomato

The Bottom Line

Knowing what to look for when identifying marijuana leaves is important for cultivators and foragers. A basic understanding of what separates indica leaves from sativa leaves, what leaves look like when they’re deficient in nutrients, and what they look like when they’ve been fed too many nutrients is extremely beneficial.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Can you eat cannabis leaves?

You can wash cannabis leaves and eat them, whether raw or cooked. Some people blend cannabis leaves into smoothies or chop them up to use in salads.

Can you make tea with cannabis leaves?

You can steep cannabis leaves in hot or boiling water and make herbal tea. Cannabis leaf tea is unlikely to have any psychoactive effect.

Will cannabis leaves get you high?

Fan leaves on cannabis tend not to produce too many trichomes, so they are unlikely to get you high. On the other hand, sugar leaves (leaves that grow close to and attach to cannabis buds) are packed full of trichomes and are often used to make edibles and concentrates. Sugar leaves have a psychoactive effect.