Can you hurt yourself with spice?

As I was making some of my homemade salsa last night, this question occurred to me:

Is it possible to do damage to yourself by eating something spicy? I mean, is there a certain spicyness threshold where after that, it will do physical (or mental) damage to your body (e.g. lips or tongue)? I am a big fan of really spicy food and I like to think I have a hearty tolerance/threshold, but while making my salsa, I chewed on a fingernail-clipping-sized piece of fresh Habanero chile and I though I was going to die:eek: :eek: . My lips and tongue were on fire for like 20 minutes.

Is there a way to hurt yourself with spice?

I suppose one could get a stomach ache, but I have an exceptionally strong stomach for these kinds of things

From this page.
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That’s 500mg per kg of body weight, right? You’d need a full cup of pure capsaicin to kill someone.

Um. how heavy is this hypothetical victim? If they’re 80kg (170ish pounds), you’d need 40grams, which is closer to a table spoon than a cup, no?

I wondered the same thing. I’ve always loved spicy food but my newest love is Thai food which can be ungodly hot at times. Every time I eat it, the next day I have a blister on my tongue. Aside from the obvious temporary discomfort, am I doing long term damage to my digestive track somehow? I don’t (at least to date) have any problems with ulcers or indigestion - just the blisters.

40 grams is about 1.37 dry ounces. I don’t know the denisty of the stuff to convert that to a volume. Anyone?

I’m pretty sure you can OD on nutmeg.


How do you define ‘hurt yourself’? 20 minutes of burning tounge sounds like a hurt to me!

In fairness though, Q.E.D., pure capsaicin does not occur in nature, and is not used as a spice. There are many ingredients in food that if consumed in pure concentrations are toxic or carcinogenic.

You’re absolutely right, Fear. I’m trying to find info on how much of the stuff the really hot peppers contain to work out how many you’d have to eat to ingest an LD50. I suspect it’s more than an average human being could possible consume.

PS - Jayrot

In case you don’t know, next time you over temp yourself - dairy products, that’s the key. It will help out the burn. Butter on a cracker, or a glass of milk. That is why ranch or bleu cheese goes well with hot wings, cools down the sting.

Cool. Thanks mipiace, but I’ve been a spicer long enough to know that. :slight_smile: Just last week my GF and I went to a Thai restaurant and when you order the curry they ask you “Mild or Spicy?”. I said “Extra-Spicy Please” and it was served to me with a smirk. I noticed the staff peering around the corner as I ate it. Man 'o man was it hot! But good though. I’ll order it exactly the same way next time.

Thanks for your responses guys, especially Q.E.D.. I’m well aware that pure concentrations of things can/are deadly. Also, just about anything in excess is bad for you (I believe you can OD on water, can’t you?). What I’m getting at is that it seems pretty standard to equate the burning spice sensation with fire. After all we do say “burning” and “my lips are on fire”. But, whereas expoure to fire/heat can cause very tangible/semi-permanent tissue damage, I’m wondering if spice can do the same.

I’ll tell ya, when I ate that Habanero piece, it felt like someone was holding a match to my lips. Absolute pain. But whereas if I had in fact burned my skin with a flame, it would surely have lasting and severe damage, whereas after the pepper, a glass of milk, some ice cream, and 20 minutes, I’m perfectly fine.

The sensation is the same, but the effect is different. Why? How? Is it really? Would is have been different if I ate more or even a hotter chile?

True story here. I had some friends that were drunk and in a jalapeno eating contest. First guy to take a sip of beer whilst eating said peppers loses $50 (this was back in the 70s). The one guy really wanted the money. He ate peppers til he got a nose bleed! Honest! You can hurt yourself!

Another friend rubbed his eyes after handling peppers and had to go to the ER. I don’t think that one was permanent damage.

No, but I hate it when my eyes turn blue…

I used to live in Des Moines, Iowa (I went to college there, OK?) and there’s a place there called [url=“”]Big Daddy’s BBQ. The place is live a tiny, porky heaven, but one of the coolest things about it is the contest the Ike “Big Daddy” himself offers, where you put up a certain amount of money, and if you’re able to eat a pork sandwich with really hot hot sauce–and keep it down-- you win, mimimum, $500 with prizes up to $10,000. If you don’t, the money you put up goes to charity. It may be obvious, but as far as I know, no one has managed to win the contest in all the time that it’s been offered, which is coming on a couple decades now.

Anyway, you have to sign a waiver to do it, and they actually have medical people there for each contest, because people have needed medical help. Most just puke, but there have been a few who’ve been in serious distress from it. So, although it may no create permanent damage, spice can certainly make you very, very ill.

Big Daddy’s BBQ sauce: condiment of the gods.

Let’s try that link again: Big Daddy’s BBQ.

I was reaching for a jar of mustard on a high shelf when it fell off and bonked me in the head. Does that count?


Well, just don’t swim in it, or you may end up growing flippers.

The issue of “hotness” aside, some spices, taken in excess, can be toxic. It is, for instance, possible to poison oneself with nutmeg.