The marijuana plant is often classified into three distinct species: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. The first word (Cannabis) designates the plant family that cannabis belongs to, while the second word designates the specific plant species (C. sativa, C. indica, C. ruderalis).
If we further classify cannabis according to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS), we can see that cannabis plants belong to the Rosales Order, Magnoliopsida Class, Tracheophyta Phylum, and the Plantae Kingdom.
Other fruiting plants (such as apples, strawberries, plums, figs, and almonds) are distant genetic relatives to marijuana. In this article, we focus on relatives within the Cannabaceae Family, which consists of 11 genera. These genera consist of several hundred subspecies.
Plants That Are Evolutionarily Related to Cannabis/Marijuana
1 – Hemp
This is the plant we would expect most people to guess was a relative of marijuana. It is actually a subspecies of the C. sativa species, and is known for its high CBD content. The Farm Bill of 2018 made it federally legal to grow industrial hemp, which is fabulous news for cannabidiol sellers. To stay within the law, hemp grown in the United States must contain less than 0.3% THC.
The terms hemp and marijuana are used interchangeably so often that many people think they are the same. However, marijuana can belong to the indica, sativa, or ruderalis subspecies. In contrast, hemp strictly belongs to the Cannabis sativa species.
Those with no knowledge of hemp and marijuana may believe the two plants look similar, but there are in fact several key differences. Hemp has skinny leaves mainly near the top, whereas marijuana has broad leaves, dense buds, and is ‘bushier’ looking. The hemp plant also has thicker fibers in its stalk, is processed into different resources (such as food, fuel, and paper), and is excellent at sucking up carbon dioxide from the air. It is also great for soil quality because it absorbs toxins from the ground.
2 – Hackberry
This deciduous tree is also part of the Cannabaceae family, albeit part of the Celtis genus. Even though it is a member of the same family, the Hackberry tree is significantly different from the marijuana plant. It is known for having extremely flexible wood, which you can use to create furniture.
Known as C. occidentalis, the hackberry tree is the biggest species in the Cannabaceae family. It can reach a height of 100 feet! Although it is native to North America, you can also find this tree in eastern European nations such as Serbia and Slovakia. It produces edible berries that are high in protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
3 – Hops
Known as Humulus lupulus, the hop plant is another semi-close relative of marijuana. It is beloved the world over as it is used to make beer. However, aside from making alcoholic beverages that damage your health, the hop plant has many medical uses. These include an ability to tackle anxiety, digestive problems, and inflammation.
Hops contain alpha acids such as humulene, which is a terpenoid. As you may know, marijuana is laden with terpenes such as beta-humulene and alpha-pinene. You can find both terpenes in the hop plant! Physically, hops and marijuana do have similarities. However, cannabis is a botanical herb, whereas the hop plant is a bine, which means it is a climbing plant.
4 – Blue Sandalwood
This tree, which grows in China, belongs to the Pteroceltis genus, and is yet another cousin of marijuana. In China, the tree is called Qing Tan, and it is used for timber and paper. Traditional medicine practices utilize oil extracted from the seeds. You can use it to try and combat a cold or the flu.
5 – Trema Orientalis
Trema is a genus of numerous evergreen tree species. Trema orientalis, also known as the Indian charcoal tree, is also in the Cannabaceae family. This small tree grows in Asia and South Africa, and produces black fruits (and also leaves!) which are safe to eat. Trema orientalis has one thing in common with hemp: it can be used to improve soil quality by acting as a bio-accumulator.
Final Thoughts on Plants That Are Related to Cannabis
Going through the various genera, families, and orders that are associated with marijuana makes you realize how special this plant truly is. Along with the five mentioned above, marijuana is part of the Cannabaceae family (as are Gironniera, Lozanella, and Aphananthe).
If you go a step further down the ITIS classification system, we can tell you that the Cannabaceae family is part of the Urticales order. Things get complicated at this stage, because the Urticales order includes the elm, mulberry, and nettle plants. Therefore, marijuana is also related to them. However, it is a more distant relationship than with the plants in its own family.