For centuries, people have used natural remedies, such as medicinal plants, to treat a variety of symptoms, including pain.

Wild lettuce is a plant that has been used for pain relief and to induce sleep. It’s used by people interested in alternatives to conventional medications.

Though wild lettuce may have several health benefits, many people are unaware of the adverse side effects that can occur from ingesting this plant.

This article discusses the health benefits and potential dangers of wild lettuce.

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(Nicolas Leser/Getty Images)

Wild lettuce (Lactuca virosa) is grown in various areas of the world, including Iran, Austria, France, Germany, and Scotland.

This herb thrives in sunny locations, such as along riverbanks and roadsides, and it can grow up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) in height.

Wild lettuce has bright green leaves, which sprout from a green stem that’s occasionally spotted purple.

When scratched, the plant secretes a milky white substance known as lactucarium.

When dried, this compound resembles opium, a pain-relieving agent extracted from unripe seedpods of the opium poppy. Opium was commonly used as a pain reliever and sedative from ancient times into the 19th century (1).

Lactucarium may deliver similar effects as opium — but with fewer side effects.

In fact, wild lettuce is often referred to as “opium lettuce” due to its purported pain-relieving qualities (2).

Historically, doctors used wild lettuce as a pain reliever and a treatment for conditions such as whooping cough, with research studies on its use dating as far back as 1815 (3).

Today you can find many different wild lettuce products that contain extracts of the plant’s seeds, leaves, and milky sap.

These tinctures, powders, oils, and pills are marketed to treat a range of conditions, including:

What’s more, raw wild lettuce is sometimes consumed by foragers who collect and eat wild plants.

In addition, wild lettuce has psychoactive properties and is sometimes used recreationally by people looking for a natural buzz.

Summary

The extract of wild lettuce seeds, leaves, and sap are added to a number of natural products claiming to relieve a variety of health concerns, such as pain and anxiety.

Wild lettuce extract, or lactucarium, has long been used to relieve pain.

Lactucarium contains lactucin and lactucopicrin, bitter substances that act on the central nervous system to produce pain-relieving and sedative effects (4).

These compounds are considered sesquiterpene lactones, a group of beneficial substances most concentrated in plants belonging to the Asteraceae family — such as lettuce, calendula, and chicory (5).

In fact, sesquiterpene lactones make up a large part of the lactucarium secreted by wild lettuce.

While many natural healthcare companies and homeopathic websites promote wild lettuce as a pain treatment, scientific evidence is lacking.

Few studies in humans have examined wild lettuce and pain relief, though some animal studies suggest that the compounds in wild lettuce extract may have pain-relieving properties.

For example, a study in mice demonstrated 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 comparable pain-relieving effects as 30 mg of ibuprofen (6).

However, animal studies on the pain-relieving properties of wild lettuce are limited, and more research needs to be done that includes humans.

Summary

Though wild lettuce has been used since ancient times to treat pain, very little evidence supports its use in humans.

Wild lettuce is promoted as a natural treatment for a variety of conditions aside from pain, such as:

  • anxiety
  • respiratory conditions
  • menstrual cramps
  • arthritis
  • cancer
  • insomnia
  • poor circulation
  • restlessness
  • urinary infections

It’s also thought to have antibacterial properties when applied to your skin.

Though you can find information on the alleged healing qualities of wild lettuce on many alternative medicine websites, there’s currently no scientific research to support its use to treat any of the above conditions.

Studies do show that other types of sesquiterpene lactones from the Asteraceae family are effective in reducing inflammation, which may aid certain conditions, such as arthritis (7).

Additionally, some sesquiterpenes offer antioxidant, antibacterial, and antitumor properties.

For example, chamomile, a member of the Asteraceae family, contains chamazulene, a sesquiterpene that demonstrates strong antioxidant qualities (8).

Feverfew, also in the Asteraceae group, is rich in parthenolide, which inhibited the growth of leukemia cells in a test-tube study (9).

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, the claims stated by certain websites and supplement companies can’t be substantiated.

Summary

Though other types of sesquiterpene lactones from the Asteraceae plant family possess anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, it’s unknown whether wild lettuce delivers the same benefits.

Though the benefits of wild lettuce remain unstudied, its side effects have been better researched.

Studies indicate that wild lettuce can harm your health (10).

In one study, eight people who ingested raw wild lettuce experienced symptoms including (11):

  • dizziness
  • extreme sensitivity to light
  • sweating
  • hallucinations
  • anxiety
  • urinary retention
  • blurred vision
  • headache
  • nausea
  • vomiting

Due to the lack of research on wild lettuce supplements, the potential side effects of such supplements are unknown.

There is no way of knowing how wild lettuce extract may interact with certain medications.

Because animal studies indicate that wild lettuce extract may have sedative properties, anyone taking sedatives should avoid wild lettuce supplements.

Additionally, ingesting wild lettuce may cause hallucinations, which can be dangerous.

Before using wild lettuce, you should speak with a healthcare professional.

Safer alternatives to wild lettuce

For people wanting more natural ways to treat pain and inflammation, trying more researched alternatives may be a safer bet.

For example, CBD oil, also known as cannabidiol, is a non-psychoactive compound found in the cannabis plant that exhibits many beneficial effects on health.

Numerous studies reveal that CBD oil may help reduce inflammation, relieve chronic pain, decrease anxiety, and improve sleep quality (12).

Turmeric and omega-3 fish oil supplements can help reduce pain and inflammation with few side effects (13, 14).

Other evidence-based, natural ways to help relieve pain include yoga, exercise, meditation, acupuncture, and heat therapy (15, 16, 17).

Summary

Little is known about the potentially dangerous side effects of raw wild lettuce or related supplements. It may be best to try safer, evidence-based alternatives for pain relief.

Wild lettuce is used by people looking for a natural treatment for pain.

Yet, research to confirm this and other purported benefits is lacking. What’s more, some evidence suggests that the remedy could result in dangerous side effects.

It’s currently unclear whether wild lettuce is safe or effective.

Consider wholesome, whole-body practices like yoga, meditation, or exercise instead.