If someone told you that lettuce can ease your pain as well as opium, you might wonder if you heard them correctly.
But it’s actually true. A strain of lettuce that looks like a cross between a dandelion and a thistle is actually an age-old painkiller.
Wild lettuce (Lactuca virosa), also known as “poor man’s opium” or “Lettuce Opium”, has been around for centuries. It garnered its Latin prefix “lac,” which means milk, because of the plant’s bitter white sap.
This milky sap contains sesquiterpene lactones, which are essentially the active chemicals responsible for its opiate and pain relieving properties. According to one study, just a 30 mg/kg mg dose of lactucopicrin, the active compound, is comparable to a 60 mg/kg dose of ibuprofen (1).
Pain Killing Superstar
Wild lettuce dates back to Ancient Greece when around 430 BC, Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, described the opiate-like effects of its sap. The Egyptians apparently used this potent lettuce to increase their sex drive, likely due to the plant’s stimulating effects at higher doses (2).
By the 19th century, doctors used wild lettuce in place of opium when supplies were low. It was also used during the US Civil War when laudanum (a liquid opium preparation) was not available for pain (3).
The Polish also studied wild lettuce extensively during this time, as doctors noticed that even though it had opioid effects, it seemed to have none of the side effects of the highly addictive drug. The results of this research were published in several 19th-century Polish journals. “The action of the substance was weaker than that of opium, but free of the side-effects, and medical practice showed that in some cases lactucarium produced better curative effects than opium.” (4).
By 1898, Lactuca virosa was listed in the United States Pharmacopoeia and in 1911, in the British Pharmaceutical Codex (5,6). Wild lettuce lost favor among the medical community in the US in the 1940s, but by the 1970s, it regained popularity among the “hippies” as a legal psychotropic, sometimes mixed with catnip or damiana.
Today, there are still a number of legal alternate hallucinogenic products that contain “lettuce opium” or a lettuce derivative. They are typically smoked or heated in small bowls, so the user can inhale the vapors.
Currently, Lactuca Virosa is listed as an unscheduled drug by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which means you can legally grow, purchase, and own it without a prescription or license.
Despite wild lettuce’s powerful opiate and painkilling properties, it is also well-known for a variety of other healing benefits.
Wild Lettuce Benefits
2. A Mild Diuretic
Wild lettuce can promote and even increase urine flow, which is why it is often used for urinary tract infections and dropsy (edema), a condition in which fluid accumulates in the tissues or body cavities, causing excessive swelling (8).
3. Sleep And Insomnia
It is no wonder that wild lettuce can effectively treat insomnia. Like an opiate, it has powerful sedative properties. You can combine wild lettuce with valerian, another sedating herb to enhance its tranquilizing properties (9).
4. Ease Arthritis
The pain relieving effects of wild lettuce can also relieve muscle and joint pain caused by arthritis. Drink wild lettuce tea just before bed and it will soothe sore muscles and joints while also promoting sleep (10).
5. Heal Migraines
Wild Lettuce may reduce the frequency and severity of migraine headaches, especially if taken in tincture form (11).
6. For Coughs And Asthma
According to the HerbDoc.com, wild lettuce can be used for “Irritation of the bronchial tubes, lungs, and a cough”. Plus, it has expectorant properties that are effective for “easing bronchitis, asthma, and dry, irritating coughs by helping to loosen and expel phlegm from the respiratory tract.”
How To Use Wild Lettuce
You can buy wild lettuce as a tea, tincture or supplement. Some people also dry the plant and smoke them in a pipe, but we don’t recommend inhaling the herb.
Here’s how you can use it (12):
- For pain, the dose is 1.5 grams of opium lettuce sap infused in a tea.
- Just 0.25 grams are required if smoked in a pipe, as it is considerably more potent in this form.
- If using a supplement, take 30 to 120 milligrams before bed.
- In tincture form, use 12-24 drops daily for acute stress or anxiety.
- Take 12-24 drops every 15 minutes for 1 or 2 hours before bed for insomnia.