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Wild Lettuce

Wild Lettuce

Botanical Description & Habitat

Lactuca virosa

Family
Compositae

Common names
Acrid lettuce
Poison lettuce
Prickly lettuce

Habitat
Grows in hedges and ditch sides, and is a very upright, perennial plant. It grows from two to seven feet high with a leafy, round, yellow-brown stem. The leaves are oblong, lanceolate, and grow alternately along the stem. The flowers are yellow; the whole plant contains a milky fluid.

Medicinal parts
Juice
leaves, collected before flowering, dried

Historical Properties & Uses

Wild lettuce, in conjunction with other species of lettuce, are sometimes used as a hypnotic, narcotic, sedative or suporific. Years of research have provided some evidence for sedative or depressant properties, but no logical basis has been found for the narcotic effects.

The origin of the narcotic claims appears lie in the similarity of appearance and odor of the milky white juice of the plant to the expressed juice of the opium poppy. White lactuca juice is air-dried, it hardens and turns brown; in this fashion it also resembles opium, and is called lactucarium. Apparently the similarity ends there.

Several studies have shown lactucarium possess no opium-like action. A report of the last century also reported the presence of hyoscyamine, a belladonna alkaloid with psychoactive properties. But that chemical has never been found since, and is generally considered not to be present in wild lettuce.

In sum, a "high" cannot be achieved through the use of wild lettuce, although some sedative effect may be experienced. From a psychological point of view, people will probably continue to get high from it for a long time.

Homeopathic uses of a tincture of fresh wild lettuce include symptomatic relief of laryngitis, tracheitis, violent cough, bronchitis, asthma and infections of the urinary tract. Most of those uses could reflect the herb's sedative action.

Method of Action

Wild Lettuce Has No Narcotic Action
Wild lettuce opium is the dried milky juice or latex. It is often called lactucarium. Lettuce opium contains two bitter principles, lactucin and lactucopicrin. Many studies conducted over the last century have failed to reveal any narcotic, hypnotic or psychoactivity in lactucarium whatsoever.

Hyoscyamine, a belladonna alkaloid, was once thought to be present, but research has shown it probably isn't. Miniscule amounts of morphine have been detected in lettuce leaves (as well as in hay); this amount of morphine would have no physiological effect at all.

Wild Lettuce May Have CNS Sedative Properties
Several years ago, while looking for central nervous system action in wild lettuce, a researcher found lactucin and lactucopicrin had definite sedative or CNS depressant properties. Other studies have failed to verify those findings.

Drug Interactions & Precautions

There is presently insufficient data on this subject.

Safety Factors & Toxicity

The toxicity level of wild lettuce has not been determined at this time.

Preparation & Administration

Three times a day

Dried leaf
0.5-3 grams

Tea
made from 1/2-1 tsp of dried leaf

Fluid extract
1:1 in 25% alcohol, 0.5-3 ml

Note: This Herbal Preparation information is a summary of data from books and articles by various authors. It is not intended to replace the advice or attention of health care professionals.

References

Am Hospital Formulary Service. Am Soc of Hosp Pharm. Wash, D.C.

Bentley, R. & H. Trimen. Medicinal Plants. 4 Vols. Churchill

Bressler, R., M.D. Bogdonoff & G.J. Subak-Sharpe. 1981. The Physicians Drug Manual. Doubleday & Co, Inc. Garden City, NY. 1213 pp.

Brown, J.K. & M.N. Malone. Pacific Information Service On Street Drugs. 5(3-6), 36-38, 1977.

Committee on Pharmocopaeia of the Am Institute of Homeopathy, The Homeopathic Pharmacopaeia of the United States. 8th ed., Vol 1. Otis Clapp and Son, Agents, Boston, l981.

Forst, A.W. Naunyn-schmiedebergs Archiv Fuer Experimentelle Pathologie Und Pharmakologie, 195, 1-25, 1940.

Ful, C.C. The Opium Poppy And Other Poppies, Bureau Of Narcotics, U.S. Treasury Dept., U.S. Government Prining Office, Wasington, D.C., 1944, pp. 62-63.

Goodman, L.S. & A. Gilman. 1975. Pharm Basis of Thera. MacMillan, NY.

Hansten, P.D. 1979. Drug Interactions, 4th ed. Lea & Febiger, Phila.

Hazum, E., J. Sabatka, K.J. Chang, et.al. Science, 213, 1010-1012, 1981.

Hyde, F.F. British Herbal Pharmacopoeia. British Herbal Medicine Assoc: West Yorks. England. 1983.

Kastrup, E.K., ed. 1981. Drug Facts and Comparisons, 1982 edition. Facts and Comparisions Division, J.P. Lippincott Co, Phila (St. Louis).

List, P. & L. Hoerhammer. 1969-1976. Hagers Hanbuch der Pharmazeutischen Praxis, vols. 2-5. Springer-Verlag, Berlin.

Martin, E.W. 1978. Drug Interactions Index, 1978/79. J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia.

Mowrey, Daniel B., Ph.D. Exper. Psych., Brigham Young University. Director of Nebo Institute of Herbal Sciences. Director of Behavior Change Agent Training Institute. Director of Research, Nova Corp.

Scientific Committee, British Herbal Pharmocopaeia, British Herbal Med Assoc, Lane House, Cowling, Na Keighley, West Yorks, Bd Bd220lx, l983.

Siegel, R.K. In Drug Abuse 7 Alcoholism. S Cohen, Editor. The Haworth Press, New York, 1981, p. 12.


 


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