Natural remedies, such as medicinal plants, have been used since ancient times to treat various symptoms, including pain.
Wild lettuce is a plant known for its pain-relieving properties. It is used by people interested in alternatives to conventional drugs.
Although wild lettuce can have several health benefits, many people are unaware of the adverse side effects of ingesting this plant.
This article looks at the health benefits and potential dangers of wild lettuce.
What is wild lettuce?
Wild lettuce (Lactuca virosa) is native to many areas of the world, including North America, Europe, and the Middle East.
This herb thrives in sunny locations along riverbanks and roads and can grow up to six feet (1.8 meters) tall.
Wild lettuce has glossy green leaves that sprout from a green stem occasionally spotted purple.
When scratched, the plant secretes a milky, white substance known as lactucarium.
When dried, this compound resembles opium, a pain reliever extracted from the green pods of the poppy. Opium was a pain reliever and sedative from ancient times to the 19th century.
Lactucarium can produce similar effects to opium but with fewer side effects.
Wild lettuce is often referred to as “opium lettuce” because of its purported pain-relieving qualities.
Historically, doctors used wild lettuce for pain relief and treatment for whooping cough, with research studies on its use dating back to 1815.
Many wild lettuce products are available today, containing extracts of the plant’s seeds, leaves, and milky sap.
These tinctures, powders, oils, and pills are marketed to treat various conditions, including anxiety, breathing problems, poor sleep, and joint pain.
Moreover, raw wild lettuce is sometimes eaten by foragers who collect and eat wild plants.
Additionally, wild lettuce has psychoactive properties and is sometimes used recreationally by people looking for a natural buzz.
Wild lettuce seed extract, leaves, and sap are added to several natural products that claim to alleviate various health problems, including pain and anxiety.
Can it provide pain relief?
Wild lettuce extract, or lactucarium, has long been used for pain relief.
Lactucarium contains lactucin and lactucopicrin, bitter substances that act on the central nervous system to produce calming effects.
These compounds are considered sesquiterpene lactones, a group of beneficial substances more concentrated in plants that belong to the Asteraceae family, such as lettuce, calendula, and chicory.
Sesquiterpene lactones comprise a large part of the lactucarium milky substance secreted by wild lettuce.
While many natural health care companies and homeopathic websites promote wild lettuce as a pain treatment, scientific evidence is lacking.
Few human studies have looked at wild lettuce and pain relief.
However, some animal studies suggest that compounds in wild lettuce extract may have impressive pain-relieving properties.
For example, a study in mice showed that at doses of 7 and 13.5 mg per pound (15 and 30 mg per kg) of body weight, lactucin and lactucopicrin combined had similar pain-relieving effects as 30 mg of ibuprofen.
However, animal studies on the pain-relieving properties of wild lettuce are limited.
Although wild lettuce has been used since ancient times to treat pain, very little evidence supports its use in humans.
Other possible benefits
Aside from pain, wild lettuce is promoted as a natural treatment for a variety of conditions, such as:
- Respiratory conditions.
- Menstrual cramps
- Bad circulation
- Urinary infections.
It is also believed to have antibacterial properties when applied to the skin.
While you can find information on the purported healing qualities of wild lettuce on many alternative medicine websites, there is currently no scientific research to support its use to treat any of the above conditions.
Studies show that other types of sesquiterpene lactones in the Asteraceae family effectively reduce inflammation, which can help certain conditions, such as asthma and arthritis.
Additionally, some sesquiterpenes offer antioxidant, antibacterial, and antitumor properties.
For example, chamomile, a member of the Asteraceae family, contains chamazulene, a sesquiterpene that demonstrates solid antioxidant qualities.
Feverfew, also in the Asteraceae group, is rich in parthenolide, inhibiting leukemia cells’ growth in a test-tube study.
However, there are few studies on the specific compounds found in wild lettuce.
Until more research is completed on the health effects of wild lettuce, claims issued by certain websites and supplement companies cannot be verified.
Although other types of sesquiterpene lactones in the Asteraceae plant family possess anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, it is unknown whether wild lettuce offers the same benefits.
Side Effects, Potential Hazards, and Alternatives
Although the benefits of wild lettuce remain unstudied, its side effects are better investigated.
Studies indicate that wild lettuce can harm your health.
In one study, eight people who ingested raw wild lettuce experienced symptoms including:
- Extreme sensitivity to light.
- Auditory hallucinations.
- Urinary retention.
- Complications of the heart.
- Respiratory problems.
- Threw up.
Due to the lack of research on wild lettuce supplements, the possible side effects of such supplements are unknown.
There is no way of knowing how wild lettuce extract can interact with certain medications.
Because animal studies indicate that wild lettuce extract may have sedative properties, anyone taking sedatives should avoid wild lettuce supplements.
Also, ingesting wild lettuce can cause hallucinations, which can be dangerous.
Safer alternatives to wild lettuce
Trying more researched alternatives may be safer for people who want more natural ways to treat pain and inflammation.
For example, CBD oil, also known as cannabidiol, is a non-psychoactive compound found in the cannabis plant and has many beneficial health effects.
Numerous studies reveal that CBD oil can help reduce inflammation, relieve chronic pain, decrease anxiety, benefit heart health, and improve sleep quality.
Turmeric and omega-3 fish oil supplements also reduce pain and inflammation with few side effects.
Other evidence-based natural ways to relieve pain include yoga, exercise, meditation, acupuncture, and heat therapy.
Little is known about the potentially dangerous side effects of raw wild lettuce or related supplements. It may be better to try safer, evidence-based alternatives for pain relief.
The bottom line
- Wild lettuce is used by people looking for natural pain treatment.
- However, research is lacking to confirm this and other purported benefits. Also, some evidence suggests that the remedy could have dangerous side effects.
- It is currently unclear if wild lettuce is safe or effective.
- Consider healthy whole-body practices, such as yoga, meditation, or exercise.