Does Lettuce Actually Get Your Rabbit Stoned?

Going down the rabbit hole. Special Collections Toronto Public Library/Flickr/Public Domain.

Has your rabbit been looking dozy, hungry, smiley, oddly anxious, and suddenly really into Pink Floyd? Well, according to some newspaper reports, it could be lettuce getting your rabbit stoned. But can lettuce really lead your bunny "down the rabbit hole?"

Lucy Ross, head of training at Pets Corner, one of the United Kingdom’s largest pet stores, said: “Iceberg lettuce – a popular staple among humans that can often make it into the pet food pile – is dangerous and should never be fed to rabbits,” MailOnline reports.

They followed this advice by saying how lettuce acts like “opium for bunnies.” So where did this leap to high rabbits and psychedelic lettuces come from?

The issue seems to be a compound called lactucarium. This milky fluid is secreted by several species of lettuce, especially a species called wild lettuce (Lactuca virosa). The use of this chemical has been revered throughout the millenias, where it has been used as an anesthetic and sedative, much like a weaker alternative to morphine. But much like morphine, it was also reported to give a euphoric effect. It even had a brief renaissance during the hippie movement as a natural high. Even today, there’s anecdotal reports of people either drying the lactucarium and smoking it or soaking wild lettuce leaves in alcohol or tea to get high.

A case study in the British Medical Journal from 2009 looked at the effects when eight people, unaware of its trippy side effects, accidentally ate wild lettuce in separate circumstances. Among the symptoms were euphoria, anxiety, hallucinations, nausea, sweating, dizziness, and decreased consciousness. 

There’s very little scientific research into the effect of lactucarium on rabbits or the quantity of lactucarium in different lettuces, so it’s difficult to say whether the tiny quantities of lactucarium could have a sedative or euphoric effect on rabbits. But compared to wild lettuce, the amounts of this chemical in the lettuce you find in your salad or your rabbit’s bowl is negligible. Chances are, you’ve eaten a large salad in your life and never experienced any mind-alternating trips.

Nevertheless, even if isn't getting them high, it's probably best to follow Lucy Ross' advice and let your rabbit lay off the lettuce.

Main image credit: Special Collections Toronto Public Library/Flickr. Public Domain

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