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Is Wild Lettuce a Natural Painkiller? The Scientific Truth About Benefits of Wild Lettuce Plant

Wild lettuce is a widely used herb that some people believe can help with a variety of conditions, from pain to sleep problems, and even get you high. In this article, we go over the uses, purported benefits, and risks of wild lettuce.

Lactuca virosa or wild lettuce is a summer herb that grows near rivers in Austria, France, Germany, and Iran. You can identify the wild lettuce plant through its green and sometimes purple-spotted stem and bright green leaves. The active ingredient of this plant is contained in a milky liquid that has a bitter taste and an unpleasant odor. When this liquid is dried and hardened, it becomes lactucarium, containing compounds known as lactucic acid, lactucopicrin, and lactucerin (lactucone). These compounds are believed to cause the effects of wild lettuce, sometimes used to treat bronchitis, asthma, and urinary tract infections.

Historically, wild lettuce has been used as a sedative, painkiller, and diuretic for conditions such as kidney disorders, uterine contractions, and edema. It also was used to replace opium in cough syrups and used in tinctures for laryngitis, bronchitis, asthma, cough, urinary tract infections, and to help people sleep. In some regions, wild lettuce is eaten or steeped as a tea.

The wild lettuce herb has had many uses: as sedative, painkiller, and hallucinogenic. Many of these uses come from homeopathic medicine and have only recently been investigated.  Typically, it is used as a powder and added to lotion or creams, but it can also be boiled or smoked. 

There are very few studies supporting the claim that wild lettuce can be used as a pain killer or sedative. In one study, mice were given both wild lettuce and ibuprofen. A 15 milligram per kilogram dose of wild lettuce was about as effective at relieving pain as a 30 milligram per kilogram dose of ibuprofen. Similarly, 30 milligrams/kilogram of wild lettuce was about as effective at relieving pain as 60 milligrams/kilogram of ibuprofen. However, there is little evidence of this effect in humans.

Smoking tobacco has many negative effects on your health. Wild lettuce is sometimes used in herbal cigarettes as a non-smoking aid. In one study, herbal cigarettes were compared to tobacco cigarettes. Although the herbal cigarettes did not contain nicotine, they still had the same amount of combustion products as tobacco cigarettes. These combustion products can increase DNA mutations just like tobacco can, making these compounds potentially harmful. More research needs to be done before the safety and efficacy of wild lettuce can be determined.

Currently, there is no evidence about wild lettuce’s effect on humans to determine an appropriate dose.

Due to the lack of studies on wild lettuce, interactions with other medications are not known. Because researchers haven’t determined its effects on pregnancy and breastfeeding, wild lettuce is not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding individuals.

When eaten, wild lettuce can exhibit a toxic effect on the body. It has been proposed that wild lettuce disrupts the signaling pathways of the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system works to conserve energy in the body, slowing your heart rate and stimulating the digestive system. Possible symptoms associated with wild lettuce toxicity are: 

  • Dilated pupils
  • Dizziness
  • Anxiety
  • Urinary retention
  • Decrease in bowel sounds
  • Sympathetic nervous system overactivity

In one study, patients also experienced nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, bloodshot eyes, and loss of consciousness. These patients ate large amounts of raw, wild lettuce. Most of the patients made a full recovery after 48 hours, except for one who lost consciousness and had to spend an extra 48 hours in the intensive care unit. The patients’ stomachs were pumped, and they received charcoal and sorbitol treatments for 6 to 12 hours. There were no further complications after they left the hospital.

In another study, patients developed symptoms of wild lettuce toxicity after injecting wild lettuce and valerian root. Their symptoms included chills, fever, abdominal pain, back and neck stiffness, headache, and mild liver function abnormalities. Similar to the last study, these patients made a full recovery in about three days.

Although some people claim wild lettuce can have beneficial effects, there is no evidence to support this claim. Wild lettuce is sometimes inhaled or applied to the skin to provide pain relief. However, when ingested, the wild lettuce plant can be toxic. Studies on mice show that the pain-relieving effects of wild lettuce are comparable to ibuprofen. There has not been enough evidence to determine the safety or efficacy of this product in humans. It’s always best to talk to your doctor before taking any herbal supplements. 










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