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 might have some health benefits, many people are unaware of the adverse side effects that can occur from ingesting this plant.

This article discusses the health potential benefits and 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. 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 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, foragers, or people who collect and eat wild plants, sometimes consume raw wild lettuce.

In addition, wild lettuce has psychoactive properties. It’s 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. They are 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 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 milligrams (mg) per pound of body weight (or 15 and 30 mg per kilogram of body weight), lactucin and lactucopicrin combined had comparable pain-relieving effects to 30 mg of ibuprofen (6).

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

Summary

Though wild lettuce has been used since ancient times to treat pain, very little scientific 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 the 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 family, 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 from certain websites and supplement companies can’t be substantiated.

Summary

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

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 medicinally, speak with a healthcare professional to make sure it is safe for you to consume.

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 nonpsychoactive compound found in the cannabis plant that may have some potential health benefits.

Studies reveal that CBD oil may help reduce inflammation, relieve chronic pain, decrease anxiety, and improve sleep quality (10).

Turmeric and omega-3 fish oil supplements can help reduce pain and inflammation with few side effects as well (11, 12).

Other evidence-based, natural ways to help relieve pain include yoga, exercise, meditation, acupuncture, and heat therapy (13, 14, 15).

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.

People looking for a natural pain treatment may use wild lettuce.

However, research to confirm wild lettuce’s benefits for pain and other conditions is lacking. What’s more, some evidence suggests the remedy could result in harmful side effects.

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

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