On One Hand

November 1, 2005

Lactuca serriola

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 11:17 pm
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I just found out that a wild weed I used to pull from my vegetable gardens when I was a kid has opium-like effects when eaten. Introduced from Europe, “prickly lettuce” grows almost everywhere in the United States, but the species (L. serriola) is only a fraction as potent as its European cousin, Lactuca virosa, or “wild lettuce.” Least potent of all in the lettuce family is L. sativa – garden lettuce, which has lost most of its psychoactive components through millenia of cultivation.

Lettuce was originally cultivated by the Romans for the very sedative effect I speak of, and was eaten after meals to induce sleep. However, it can also increase appetite, so lettuce-based salads could be eaten prior to meals as an appetizer. Incidentally, lettuce salads are still considered appetizers today.

It makes me wonder why some plants like marijuana are considered “illicit drugs” because of their psychoactive properties while other plants with psychoactive properties (coffee and chocolate, for example) are so ingrained in our culture.

The average lethal dose of nicotine is 40-60mg, making it one of the most toxic stimulants known. A cigarette contains around 10mg of nicotine, but by smoking it you’ll absorb only 1-3mgs. By chewing tobacco you’ll absorb a little more. A cigar might contain up to 300mg of nicotine, meaning that if you eat a cigar, it could kill you – except that you’d almost definitely throw up. Cigar smoke wouldn’t deliver enough nicotine to kill, but can and sometimes does make people very ill. To compare, the minimum lethal dose of pure, isolated cocaine hydcrochloride (the active ingredient in powdered cocaine), is 1.2 grams – making it 1/25 as lethal as nicotine.

Again, one drug is considered illicit while the other is not. Drugs banned in the United States can often be traced back to widespread use by some “undesireable” class, indicating one way some substances became stigmitized while others do not. Opium, the first drug ever banned in the United States, was associated with undesired Chineese immigrants in California at the time. When alcohol was prohibited, the United States was dealing with droves of Catholic immigrants from Ireland, Poland, and Italy, who were associated with alcohol, while the Protestant majority disliked both alcohol and Catholics. Cocaine, once a “wonder drug” advocated by Sigmund Freud and popularized by various intellectuals, later became associated with poor Blacks and Mexicans at the turn of the 20th century and was banned. Cannabis, or hemp and marijuana, was a multifaceted billion-dillar cash-crop industry making materials ranging from food (in hemp seed, which is extremely healthy) to lamp oil to canvas. But when it, like cocaine, was associated with Mexicans and poor Blacks, in this case in the 19- 10’s and 20’s, it was banned.

Most of these prohibitions happened during times when political correctness didn’t exist as we know it today, so do a little research and you’ll find that various ethnic groups were very explicitly named in the primary arguments to ban these substances.

I’m not saying all drugs are good and should be legal, but I do think this gives us reason to take a more scientific look at banned substances and legislate on reason rather than traditions that are rooted in some purritanical whim. The overwhelming scientific evidence is that marijuana can have great medicinal properties, aside from producing useful food crops and materials, but is considered dangerous because some people smoke it for fun. Research other illegal drugs and you might find that some of them are useful too.



  1. there used to be adverts in high times magazine for free samples of ‘lettuce incense’ which actually said “be careful not to inhale fumes, so that no intoxicating feeling of awareness occurs.” the ‘incense’ was concentrated wild lettuce juice, which makes really sweet thick smoke, which i cannot comment on the alleged psychoactive effects of, because i heeded the warning and never inhaled [cough]

    Comment by seth_death — November 2, 2005 @ 7:48 am | Reply

    • Did it do anything?

      I was initially very excited about the L. serriola because I wanted to try it, but found out it’s pretty a weak form and would probably take a lot to work. On the other hand, all the Lactuca species are legal, and I know from experience trying to pull them that they grow VERY quickly and VERY easily. I even had them popping up in flower pots indoors when I’d collected soil from outside that must’ve contained the seeds. Plus, there are clearly no known negative medical consequences to eating lettuce. Maybe I’ll order some of the good seeds from Britian sometime…

      Comment by ononehand — November 2, 2005 @ 7:55 am | Reply

  2. I can just picture my whole family getting high from eating salad at a formal dinner… would be funny as hell!!!

    Interesting stuff, where did you come across all this information?

    Comment by mismatchedmind — November 4, 2005 @ 4:42 pm | Reply

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