Wild Lettuce

Wild lettuce is more than just lettuce grown in the wild; it a specific species of plant (Lactuca virosa) used frequently in herbal medicine. Wild lettuce is closely related to dandelion, albeit with stouter leaves, and can be found in central and southern Europe, Australia, the Punjab region of India and Pakistan, and along the coast of Great Britain.

Wild lettuce is believed to have sedative and analgesic (pain-relieving) effects and is often used as a natural remedy for stress and chronic pain.

Also Known As
Bitter lettuce
Opium lettuce
Poisonous lettuce

Health Benefits
Wild lettuce contains two compounds, known at lactucin and lactucopicrin, that act on the central nervous system. Wild lettuce has the highest concentration of lactucopicrin of all plants, although dandelion root and chicory root are also good sources.

In addition to its sedative and analgesic effects, lactucopicrin is believed to act as an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, meaning that it blocks cholinesterase enzymes that slow communications between brain cells. Wild lettuce is also said to exhibit potent antimicrobial activity.

Based on these properties, practitioners of alternative medicine believe that wild lettuce can prevent or treat the following health conditions:

Alzheimer's disease
Atherosclerosis ("hardening of the arteries")
Joint pain
Menstrual pain

Wild lettuce is often referred to as the "poor man's opium" as it is said to trigger mild-altering effects if consumed in excess.

Despite the plethora of health claims, there is little evidence that wild lettuce can prevent or treat any medical condition. Most of the current evidence is largely hypothetical or anecdotal.

That is not to suggest that wild lettuce is without benefit. Here is some of what the current evidence says:

Despite long-standing claims that wild lettuce is a potent painkiller, there has been little actual research conducted to evidence this effect.

The study most commonly referred to was published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology back in 2006. For this study, the researchers provided lab mice with either lactucin, lactucopicrin, or Advil (ibuprofen) in oral form. The mice were then submitted to a hot-plate test and a flick-tail test (in which their tails were literally flicked) to assess their response to pain.

Of the compounds tested, lactucopicrin was the most potent and required half the dose per kilogram of Advil. Lactucin and lactucopicrin also appeared to have a sedating effect as evidenced by the dulling of the animals' locomotor activity (i.e., physical response to external stimuli).

A 2004 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology suggested that lactucin and lactucopicrin isolated from the common chicory plant have anti-malarial properties. It can reasonably be assumed that the same would be seen with wild lettuce, although it is unclear how active the compounds would be against malaria.

By contrast, sweet wormwood (Artemesia annua), another plant rich in lactucin and lactucopicrin, contains a highly active antimalarial agent called artemisinin. Unlike sweet wormwood, wild lettuce does not contain any artemisinin.

Alzheimer's Disease
The lactucopicrin in wild lettuce appears to be a robust acetylcholinesterase inhibitor. Among its benefits, a 2016 study in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found that lactucopicrin increased neuritogenesis in brain cells extracted from lab rats.

Neuritogenesis is a phenomenon in which nerve cells sprout projections, called neurites, that connect one nerve cell to another. The more neurites there are, the stronger the transmission of nerve signals.

This suggests, but not proves, that wild lettuce may help preserve brain function in people with Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson's disease. Further research is needed.

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