Lactucarium is the milky fluid secreted by several species of lettuce, especially "Lactuca virosa", usually from the base of the stems. Lactucarium is known as lettuce opium because of its sedative and analgesic properties. It has been reported to promote a mild sensation of euphoria, but "Lactuca virosa" is poisonous [cite web|url=|title=Plants for a Future: "Lactuca virosa"|accessdate=2007-05-28] , and at least one fatality has occurred during an attempt to use it for intoxication. [cite web|url=|title=The Straight Dope|author=Cecil Adams|date=2005-01-07|accessdate=2007-05-28] [cite journal|journal=Presse Med. 2003 Apr 26;32(15):702-3|title= [Abuse of lactuca virosa] PMID 12762295] Because it is a latex, Lactucarium physically resembles opium, in that it is excreted as a white fluid and can be reduced to a thick smokeable solid.


"Lettuce Opium" was used by the Ancient Egyptians, and was introduced as a drug in the United States as early as 1799 [] The drug was prescribed and studied extensively in Poland during the nineteenth century, and was viewed as an alternative to opium, weaker but lacking side-effects, and in some cases preferable. However, early efforts to isolate an active alkaloid were unsuccessful. [PMID 17153150] It is described and standardized in the 1898 United States Pharmacopoeiacite web|url=|title=King's American Dispensary:Tinctura Lactucarii (U. S. P.)—Tincture of Lactucarium|author=Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.|year=1898|accessdate=2007-05-28] and 1911 British Pharmaceutical Codexcite web|url=|title=Lactuca, Lactucarium|author=the Council of the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain|year=1911|accessdate=2007-05-27] for use in lozenges, tinctures, and syrups as a sedative for irritable cough or as a mild hypnotic (sleeping aid) for insomnia. The standard definition of lactucarium in these codices required its production from "Lactuca virosa", but it was recognized that smaller quantities of lactucarium could be produced in a similar way from "Lactuca sativa" and "Lactuca canadensis" var. "elongata", and even that lettuce-opium obtained from "Lactuca scariola" or "Lactuca altissima" was of superior quality. [cite web|url=|title=King's American Dispensary:Tinctura Lactucarii (U. S. P.)—Tincture of Lactucarium|author=Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.|year=1898|accessdate=2007-05-28]

In the twentieth century, two major studies found commercial lactucarium to be without effect. In 1944, Fulton concluded, "Modern medicine considers its sleep producing qualities a superstition, its therapeutic action doubtful or nil." Another study of the time identified active bitter principles lactucin and lactucopicrin, but noted that these compounds from the fresh latex were unstable and did not remain in commercial preparations of lactucarium. Accordingly, lettuce opium fell from favor, until publications of the hippie movement began to promote it in the mid-1970s as a legal drug producing euphoria, sometimes compounded with catnip or damiana.cite web|url=|title=Lettuce opium|accessdate=2007-05-28]

The seeds of lettuce have also been used to relieve pain. Lettuce seed was listed between belladonna and cocaine in order of anaesthetic potency in Avicenna's "The Canon of Medicine", which served as an authoritative medical textbook from soon after AD 1000 until the seventeenth century. [cite web|url=|title=Avicenna and the Canon of Medicine: a millennial tribute|author=Richard Dean Smith|year=1980|accessdate=2005-07-07]

Contemporary use

Although lactucarium has faded from general use as a pain reliever, it remains available, sometimes promoted as a legal psychotropic.

The seed of ordinary lettuce, "Lactuca sativa", is still used in Avicenna's native Iran as a folk medicine, and a crude extract of the seeds was shown to have analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects in standard formalin and carrageenan tests of laboratory rats. It was not toxic to the rats at a dose of 6 grams per kilogram [cite journal|author=Sayyah M, Hadidi N, Kamalinejad M.|title=Analgesic and anti-inflammatory activity of Lactuca sativa extract in rats|journal=J Ethnopharmacology 92(2-3):325-9 PMID 15138019|year=2004|accessdate=2007-05-28|volume=92|pages=325|doi=10.1016/j.jep.2004.03.016]


The active ingredients of lactucarium are believed to be lactucin and its derivatives lactucopicrin and 11β13-dihydrolactucin, which have been found to have analgesic activity equal or greater to that of ibuprofen in standard hot-plate and tail-flick tests of sensitivity to pain in laboratory mice. Lactucin and lactucropicrin were also found to have sedative activity in measurements of spontaneous movements of the mice. [cite journal|author=Wesolowska A, Nikiforuk A, Michalska K, Kisiel W, Chojnacka-Wojcik E.|journal=1: J Ethnopharmacol 107(2):254-8 PMID 16621374|date=2006-09-19|accessdate=2007-05-27
title =
] Some effects have also been credited to a trace of hyoscyamine in "Lactuca virosa", but the alkaloid was undetectable in standard lactucarium.


Lactucarium was used unmodified in lozenges, 30-60 milligrams (0.5 to 1 grain), sometimes mixed with borax. However, it was found to be more efficient to formulate the drug in a cough syrup "(Syrupus Lactucarii, U.S.P.)" containing net 5% lactucarium, 22% glycerin, 5% alcohol, and 5% orange-flower water in syrup.


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  • lactucarium — [ laktykarjɔm ] n. m. • 1831; du lat. lactuca « laitue » ♦ Biochim., pharmacol. Sédatif obtenu à partir de la dessiccation des feuilles de laitue, appelé aussi opium de laitue. ● lactucarium nom masculin (latin scientifique moderne lactucarium,… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Lactucarium — Lac tu*ca ri*um, n. [NL., fr. L. lactuca lettuce.] The inspissated juice of the common lettuce, sometimes used as a substitute for opium. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Lactucarium — Lactucarium, s.u. Lactuca …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Lactucarĭum — (Giftlattichsaft), ein aus Lactuca sativa und L. virosa gewonnenes Arzneimittel. L. virosa (der Giftlattich) liefert besonders zur Blütezeit bei Verwundung einen weißen Milchsaft, der zu dunkel gelbbraunen, innen weißen, wachsglänzenden Klümpchen …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Lactucarium — Le lactucarium est le nom donné au latex sécrété par plusieurs espèces de plantes du genre Lactuca (laitues), notamment par Lactuca virosa et lactuca quercina, généralement à la base de la tige. On parle « d opium de laitue » et on le… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • lactucarium — noun /læktjuːˈkɛəɹɪəm/ The thickened juice of certain varieties of lettuce, used as a drug. Syn: lettuce opium …   Wiktionary

  • lactucarium — lac·tu·ca·ri·um .lak tə kar ē əm, ker n the dried milky juice of a wild lettuce (Lactuca virosa) of central and southern Europe that resembles opium in physical properties and was formerly used as a sedative …   Medical dictionary

  • lactucarium — (la ktu ka ri om ) s. m. Terme de pharmacie. Suc laiteux de la laitue obtenu par incision et desséché au soleil, au lieu que la thridace est le même suc obtenu par contusion des tiges de la laitue. ÉTYMOLOGIE    Lat. lactuca, laitue …   Dictionnaire de la Langue Française d'Émile Littré

  • lactucarium — lac·tu·ca·ri·um …   English syllables

  • lactucarium — ˌlaktəˈka(a)rēəm, ˈker , ˈkār noun ( s) Etymology: New Latin, from Lactuca, genus that produces it + Latin arium : the dried milky juice of a prickly lettuce (Lactuca virosa) resembling opium in physical properties and formerly used as a sedative …   Useful english dictionary

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