I’d say my spice tolerance is pretty high (though I think I’d get my ass kicked on a Hot Ones episode). I try not to push it during everyday eating, but I do eat some sort of spicy food frequently. But if I start pushing my capacity for spicy dishes, I, like many people, start reaching a state of slight euphoria. What causes this odd sensation while my mouth is getting its ass kicked?
I’d liken feeling “spice drunk” to experiencing a runner’s high: I’m invigorated and convinced that I’m invincible. Pleasure, in this case, is related to pain. Capsaicin, the compound that creates the burning sensation when you eat certain spicy foods, triggers pain receptors in your mouth. Because your body is experiencing the input as pain, your body releases endorphins, which blocks the nerves from transmitting pain signals to your brain.
In addition to the endorphins, dopamine is also released, which is a chemical associated with pleasure. Taken together, these two reactions can provide a giddy, euphoric feeling. It doesn’t totally overshadow the burn of the spicy food, though. For me, and presumably many others, there is definitely a point at which the pain can overwhelm any joy I get from extremely spicy food.
Some people enjoy taking their love of spicy foods to an extreme. There’s a metric shitload of YouTube videos dedicated to people eating the hottest food they can find. I have a particular affinity for watching people at chile pepper eating contests, because I like seeing how different people handle the heat differently. Plus it’s funny to watch all the squirming around and strange facial expressions.
Normally I don’t derive amusement from watching people suffer. But because I can empathize with exactly what’s going on in their bodies, knowing full well they’ll be fine later, I can watch their reactions with deep interest. Inevitably I start imagining what it would feel like if I were alongside these competitors, wondering how many Scoville units I’m actually capable of handling. Call it a virtual psychological contact high. Whatever it is, I’m having spicy buldak ramen for my next meal.