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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    $\begingroup$ You can die from eating too much of just about anything so the question in the title is pretty meaningless. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 9:23
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby Right, but at the same time, "can you die from eating too much cyanide?" is not a meaningless question (though perhaps strangely worded). $\endgroup$
    – Superbest
    Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 9:54
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    $\begingroup$ "die" or "wish you were dead"? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 18:01
  • $\begingroup$ 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 $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 20:06

2 Answers 2


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.
  • $\begingroup$ 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. $\endgroup$
    – Superbest
    Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 7:10
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    $\begingroup$ 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. $\endgroup$
    – coburne
    Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 15:11
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    $\begingroup$ 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 :) $\endgroup$
    Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 18:41
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    $\begingroup$ 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 $\endgroup$
    Commented Jun 6, 2014 at 9:10
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    $\begingroup$ by TRPV I meant TRPV1.. Moreover chronic exposure to capsaicin causes analgesia. It is important to ascertain the cause of death after capsaicin overdose $\endgroup$
    Commented Jun 6, 2014 at 9:16

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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    $\begingroup$ Please include references $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 11:04
  • $\begingroup$ wouldn't it do the opposite instead? I would imagine that it would dilate the blood vessels lower blood pressure. $\endgroup$
    – Thomas
    Commented Jun 14, 2017 at 11:25

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