Does capsaicin INJURE (not cause pain to) mammals?

We know birds can eat chile peppers without injury, thanks to this mailbag report:

But one thing I’ve never gotten straight: Can mammals receive actual chemical burns from capsaicin? We know it fools pain receptors into registering pain, but does it cause tissue damage? I ask because I have often heard about people not washing their hands properly after dicing spicy peppers, and then doing something like, say, removing their contacts ( = capsaicin in the eye = ouch), and people commenting that the individual got a terrible “chemical burn.”

What’s the straight dope? True damage, or only illusion?

Anyone? SDSAB?

It is actually used to treat skin conditions, and when there is a feeling of a ‘burn’, it is just that: a feeling. It tricks the nerve receptors. It’s not causing harm that the nerve receptors are signalling, it’s just creating that same burning feeling, without the burning. Well, that goes for the very diluted stuff that is used.
But reading this new piece, it claims that pure capsaicin will blister the skin:

“…A single milligram of pure capsaicin (the equivalent of about 10 grains of salt) placed on the palm of an ungloved hand would feel like a burning spike and would blister the skin…”

And this fairly scientific look at the molecue states that concentrated amounts of capsaicin does indeed kill cells, and calls it toxic:

“High concentrations are toxic. Exposure is painful and even incapacitating. Capsaicin prevents nerve cells from communicating with each other by blocking the production of certain neurotransmitters; at high concentrations it destroys the cells!”

There are references to 11 different studies on the subject by universities, etc.

That’s very interesting. Looking through my garden catalogs every spring, I’ve wondered if all the hybridizing in the quest for the firiest, flaming, explosive pepper would eventually produce a genuinely “killer chili.”

Its a bit of a strech, but here we go…

Mace contains capsaican, and is used to help subdue roudy people by the police and security personel. It is possible for that mace to trigger asthma attacks in some people. If severe enough, that could cause death…

Pepper spray can injure, usually if it penetrates the eyeball when sprayed at too close a range. Normally, it simply hurts like a motherfucker and basically overloads your senses. It is a highly effective way of getting the upper hand on a non-compliant or agressive person.

This post raises a lot of questions, but I think the big one is why you did it the second time. And what the reaction in the ER was like the second time.

Bad news: Topical use of Capsaicin has been linked to skin cancer. Of course those researchers might not have had the depth of clinical experience that you and Juanito have under your belts <cough> .

Have you by any chance been shopping for watermelons lately?

The neurotoxic effects of capsaicin have been documented for decades.

Doesn’t stop me from eating hot stuff, though.

I’m fairly certain that applying isopropyl alcohol to the surface of the eye isn’t healthy for it, either, much less the paste of hot peppers that he intended to “decontaminate” with it.

Assuming this isn’t just an ever-so hilarious joke, I have to say: I am not a doctor or nurse, but I do work in Ophthalmology, and in my semi-professional opinion, you are risking serious damage to your eye through this practice.

So you are the one putting chili powder in your eye, and we are the stupid ones?

I guess you missed the memo that let everyone else know that if a product’s health claims are all encompassing, they are all most likely false.

Seriously, you need help. While your self-injurious behavior isn’t outright blinding you, there is no evidence that suggests it has any health benefits. Show me a double blind, placebo controlled study that shows that capsaicin has a clinically significant influence on a disease, and I’ll believe you.

The one and only medically feasible use of capsaicin is for the treatment of shingles. When applied regularly, it depletes substance P from presynaptic vesicles and inhibits nociception. It does not speed recovery, but merely acts as a natural analgesic.

So your final proof is that you somehow managed to not lose you genitals? You sir, are a true scientist.

Can you spot the looney in this thread?


I have a better idea. Hold still, this might sting a bit.

Ah, mod sauce. Perfect for those occasions when normal hot sauce simply won’t do. :cool:

Well. Somebody obviously hasn’t been lurking a bit to get a feel for the boards’ culture, has he, now?

At least he didn’t insult me. Maybe it was because I used the :slight_smile:

Guy sure didn’t like science much, did he?

Pfff. What do you know anyway? :wink: