Hot Take

It turns out eating a paralyzingly hot chili pepper can have negative effects on your body

April 10, 2018

I have eaten the tortilla chip birthed from the fiery dust of the Carolina Reaper pepper. I have placed into my mouth the fury of a thousand stars, felt the burn on my tongue and the pyroclastic flow in my throat, spent considerable time wondering if it’s possible to voluntarily shut down one’s own mucus production system. (Short answer: It is not. You just have to sit there and leak for 20 minutes.) It was ghastly and unpleasant and fun and strangely addictive; after we were done, some part of us wanted more.

But I only ate part of the Carolina Reaper Madness Chip, because 1. Two other people in my house also wanted a sample and 2. I’m a fluffy buttercup. And it should be noted that I ate the nacho-chip version that’s coated in pepper dust—not the actual pepper itself. While eating a hot chip sounds like something worth trying, consuming an object that scientifically ranks four million of something seems, on some instinctive level, like a questionable decision for your intestinal regions, breath and general health.

And it kind of is! Here’s the recent story of a 34-year-old man who noshed on a Carolina Reaper pepper at an eating contest in New York, one of a seemingly endless number of hot-stuff-eatin’ contests you can find pretty much anywhere. Shortly after eating the curiously deformed devil-looking vegetable, he subsequently complained of “crushingly painful” headaches, severe deck pain, dry heaves and, of course, jets of fire roaring out of his butt. (Just kidding! Probably! Like the BBC is gonna tell us if that happens.)

Some background, if you eat normal food: The Carolina Reaper pepper is the Guinness World Record holder for Hottest Chili on Earth and Probably Most of the Other Planets, a plant of such ferocious potency that its record hasn’t been toppled for four years. Pepper hotness is measured in Scovilles; it’s a little complicated to explain, but the jalapenos in your burrito rank between 2,500 and 5,000 Scovilles while Tabasco sauce can hit 7,000. The Reaper’s Guinness test clocked in at 1.56 million Scovilles, and individual peppers have hit 2.2 million. The Reaper’s inventor—Ed Currie of the South Carolina-based company with the actual and highly satisfying name of Puckerbutt—claims to have ingested a pepper-essence substance of 16 million Scovilles. Currie also says he’s got Reapers that measure 4 million Scovilles, but hasn’t released them yet, because why? We’re still throwing gobs of money at the relatively paltry 2.2 million version. And we’re doing so for the second-oldest reason humans do anything: Peppers, due to the endorphin rush that occurs when your body is forced to deal with a foreign object of unimaginable heat, make you a little bit high. That’s why people are driven to breed hotter and hotter version, that’s why they attend hot pepper conventions, that’s why my family and I kept eating bits of the Paqui chip even after the first burst of throat-fire. They’re chasing a high! Which makes this all make way more sense, frankly.

Generally speaking, eating peppers doesn’t actually damage your brain (just your breath). But in this case, the man who ate the Reaper began suffering “thunderclap” headaches and was diagnosed with RCSV, or reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome. In short, the arteries in his brain were tightening up. It’s the first time RCSV has been associated with hot chili peppers—although cayenne pepper, weirdly, has been linked to heart attacks. But as the acronym includes the word “reversible,” the story has a happy ending: His symptoms cleared up by themselves, and his arteries were back to normal in about five weeks, though he’s still tragically unable to taste gum.

So, just in case, a public service announcement: If you’re ever eating actual plant-fire created by a man in South Carolina and your head starts to hurt, take a break from eating the flames and either go on a coyote-helmed search for your soulmate or seek medical attention, preferably both. It’s almost certainly not going to happen, but it’s best to be safe. (Honestly if you’re eating anything and your head starts to hurt, you should stop. If you’re eating Rice Krispies and you start to suffer debilitating headaches, knock it off! CRACKLE CAN WAIT.) And if your goal is getting high, just drink paint thinner like the rest of us.

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