Can Ghost Peppers Kill You?

Some people love jalapeños — raw or pickled — on just about any kind of food at any time of the day. Each time you chew a jalapeño pepper, you’re releasing a spicy heat that measures 2,500 to 5,000 units on the Scoville heat scale. Compare that to the green pepper, which has a Scoville rating of zero. Eating a ghost pepper takes heat to a whole new — and painful — level. That’s because the ghost pepper tips the scale at more an a million units. When you bite into a ghost pepper, your mouth feels heat in the most extreme way. Your tongue’s receptors register the intensity of the pepper and relay that information to your brain, which interprets the pepper as a burning, pain-inducing interloper. This causes a chain reaction in your body, as the capsaicin in the ghost pepper initiates widespread tissue inflammation and begins to wreak havoc on your nerve endings, dilating blood vessels and making you feel hot all over. Your body is staging a violent protest, but to what extent. Could eating ghost peppers cause your demise? Take the case of a man who ate a ghost pepper in an eating contest and drank six glasses of water to cool off. He vomited so much that he tore a hole in his esophagus and was rushed to the hospital, where doctors found that his left lung had collapsed. He spent 23 days in the hospital and was sent home with a gastric tube. Why do some people handle the heat better than others? Scientists believe it’s a nurtured ability. Over time, capsaicin kills pain receptors in the mouth, and eventually peppers that are excruciating become simply a pleasant heat.