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Some peppers, such as the habanero or Carolina reaper are extremely spicy, and when eaten in larger amounts than one is accustomed to, can cause some discomfort.

I've also heard anecdotes claiming that pepper spray, if applied with sufficient intensity, can cause death.

What if you were to eat as many spicy peppers as possible, despite the noxious taste? Is it possible to commit suicide in this way (and what would the cause of death)? Would you faint from excessive mouth pain? Would uncontrollable vomiting prevent you from consuming further peppers?

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You can die from eating too much of just about anything so the question in the title is pretty meaningless. –  David Richerby Jun 5 at 9:23
@DavidRicherby Right, but at the same time, "can you die from eating too much cyanide?" is not a meaningless question (though perhaps strangely worded). –  Superbest Jun 5 at 9:54
"die" or "wish you were dead"? –  Dan Neely Jun 5 at 18:01
This is more anecdotal than an answer, but I live near a place called Munchies 420 in Sarasota, FL. The guy from "Man vs. Food" failed to eat the "Fire In Your Hole" wings. One man so far actually did die from trying to complete the challenge. He was resuscitated in the parking lot. Now that I read your question again, I'm going to make this an answre –  Mr. Manager Jun 5 at 20:06
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3 Answers 3

The more "dangerous" properties of spicy peppers are chiefly due to capsaicin.

Sigma-Aldrich sells purified capsaicin, for which they provide safety information, including an MSDS. Most of it is the usual, unsurprising set of warnings about irritation to eyes and the respiratory system. However, there are LD50 numbers:

LD50 Oral - rat - male - 161.2 mg/kg

LD50 Oral - rat - female - 148.1 mg/kg

LD50 Dermal - mouse - >512 mg/kg

From this, we can conclude that one would have to eat quite a bit of capsaicin to die. If lethality in humans is exactly the same as rat (which it probably isn't), a 70 kg human would need to consume about 11 g of capsaicin to reach similar levels of lethality.

The Carolina Reaper, one of the hottest known peppers, averages about 1.6 million on the Scoville scale. Capsaicin amount is related to Scoville heat units, so we can make an imprecise conversion from one to the other.

Using values given in 2 publications (Nwokem 2010 and Al Othman 2011) we can observe the following trend:

enter image description here

So on average, about $6.25 \cdot 10^{-5}$ mg/g capsaicin per SHU. With this, we get $(1.6 \cdot 10^5) \cdot (6.25 \cdot 10^{-5}) = 10$ mg/g, or 1% capsaicin for dry Carolina Reapers. To eat the equivalent of 11 g of capsaicin in peppers, you would have to eat 1.1 kg of dry peppers - which should be a couple of dozen.

So, I think we can conclude that it is relatively "feasible" to consume a dangerously large amount of capsaicin by eating very spicy peppers. However, there are numerous caveats with my reasoning:

  • Human LD50 and rat LD50 are not necessarily the same.
  • Toxicity is not necessarily linearly related to body weight.
  • Peppers have compounds besides capsaicin that contribute to hotness.
  • It would be very difficult to eat such a large amount of spicy peppers, and various involuntary reflexes would interfere. Even if one were force fed the peppers, I imagine the body would attempt to vomit it up - which brings up the question of how the toxicologists even managed to feed several milligrams of capsaicin to rats to measure the LD50.
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This answer is quite incomplete: The quantitative aspects are inconclusive (they rely on rat values), and there is very little qualitative information on how exactly death would occur. I have nevertheless included it here as a way of collecting the relevant information I was able to find, in the hopes that it would help answerers. –  Superbest Jun 5 at 7:10
1.1kg of dry peppers being a couple of dozen would be a weight of about 50g per pepper -- quite heavy, especially if you mean dried (dehydrated) peppers. These peppers don't look very big. (For reference, it seems that a medium bell pepper weighs about 100g.) –  David Richerby Jun 5 at 9:28
I agree with @Superbest. This answer is based on rats. I demand precise, demonstrated research results on what the lethal doses are for a human. Potential research subjects might be hesitant to participate, but 50 bucks would probably seal the deal. –  coburne Jun 5 at 15:11
toxicologists even managed to feed several milligrams of capsaicin to rats to measure the LD50: Purified capsacin (wrapped in something like capsule) could have been provided in a single dose. Quite a nice answer though :) –  WYSIWYG Jun 5 at 18:41
They can also perhaps do a test in TRPV knockout rats. This would at least eliminate the instantaneous burning sensation of capsaicin. Avian TRPV channels are not sensitive to capsaicin –  WYSIWYG Jun 6 at 9:10
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If you have cardiovascular problems, then it should be quite possible for the pain cause by spicy peppers to trigger a heart attack via a spike in blood pressure. A similar scenario might occur with respiratory diseases. And of course an anaphylactic shock, if you are allergic.

Apart from such special circumstances, I imagine that it would be nearly impossible to overcome the debilitating effects of capsaicin long enough to consume a lethal dose.

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Please include references –  The Last Word Jun 5 at 11:04
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Yes you can allegedly die.

List of bad things (referenced by my own experiences)

  • burning eyes
  • severe stomach pain
  • vomiting
  • butt pain
  • dermal burns
  • skin rash
  • sinus irritaion
  • Severe hiccups

I live near a place called Munchies 420 in Sarasota, FL. The guy from "Man vs. Food" failed to eat the "Fire In Your Hole" wings. One man so far allegedly did die from trying to complete the challenge. He was resuscitated in the parking lot.

Here is a list of videos of a people trying to complete the challenge https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=munchies+420+wing+challenge. They say no one ever keeps the wings down, only down long enough to beat the challenge. This is also to avoid the rectal pain you would experience the next day

Unfortunately, I cannot find the man's name. So it is unsubstantiated.

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This post does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this post by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.

I'm trying to confirm the name of the death, but it was a number of years ago, and since he was resuscitated didn't make much news. –  Mr. Manager Jun 5 at 20:25
Created an account to vote for this. :) –  Aaron Hall Jun 5 at 20:43
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