Can cannabinoids make spicy foods more tolerable?

by Nick Gonzales

One of the greatest things in life is spicy food. It is a truth universally acknowledged, and I don’t care what you say to the contrary. In addition to making life more enjoyable, spicy food also promotes longevity, speeds up your metabolism, and fights bacteria, cancer cells and bacteria.

Then again, it’s easy to overdo. If you’re me, you regularly overindulge in pepper-based curries, hot wings, or chili — and also have to prove your worth in family-wide tests of machismo swagger. Is it worth it? Maybe, but it’s also definitely painful as the capsaicin sets your mucous membranes aflame.

According to some, there’s a secret weapon you can use to deal when what you’re eating is a bit too picante. In 2007, the Center for Medical Cannabis Research at the University of California San Diego conducted a study to see if marijuana could ease neuropathic pain. To simulate the pain associated with chemotherapy and the like, researchers injected participants with capsaicin.

They found a positive correlation between cannabis use and reduced pain, but nothing really spun out of the study. Perhaps because they were focusing primarily on THC, which is associated with pain relief — but so is CBD, which feels like it has emerged onto the scene more recently than 2007. They also only tested it as a response to pain — i.e. they shot participants up with capsaicin and then treated it with cannabis, finding it took about 45 minutes to kick in.

In theory, if you take the cannabinoid first and give it that much of lead time, it should counteract some of the pain of eating a spicy chile. And while a sample group of one person isn’t statistically valid for real science, I decided to put that theory to the test anyway.

For the control group, I put some hot sauce on a chip and ate it. It’d be boring, though, if I just tested the cannabinoids against run-of-the-mill hot sauce. So I borrowed some CaJohns Sling Blade Reaper Hot Sauce, a Carolina-Reaper and Bhut Jolokia-based concoction from one of those capsaicin-loving family members. The sauce clocks in at about 1.474 million units on the Scoville Scale — the scale by which the hotness of peppers is measured. For comparison, a jalapeño falls between 2,500 and 8,000 units.

It was unpleasant. My nostrils flared, my face immediately broke into a sweat, and I coughed a few times. After the immediate spike in pain, the burning sensation in my mouth and esophagus lasted a good 10 minutes or so before it dissipated completely.

Several hours later, I took 20 mg of CBD (in edible form, for the sake of measurability), waited 45 minutes, and ate another hot sauce-laden chip. It was still pretty painful ­— obviously, the cannabinoid won’t take the sensation away entirely — but it was muted. It felt as though that initial spike in pain when the capsaicin makes contact with the interior of your mouth didn’t spike nearly as high. The ongoing burning aftertaste was also muted and vanished within three or four minutes. I got the hiccups for a solid 30 seconds, mind you, but experienced no other side effects.

A day later, I conducted the final test: 10 mg of THC consumed 45 minutes before eating the hot chip. Holy crap, did this one backfire. In a way that was very surprising, this attempt felt more painful than the very first, cutting right through the high. The face sweats returned, my eyes teared up, my nose started running, and the hiccups came back. I wouldn’t be surprised if I turned another color, like a cartoon, and fire erupted from my mouth. According to the clock, the heat stuck around for almost 10 minutes again, though my ability to perceive those minutes may have been a bit loose.

In conclusion, my anecdotal evidence suggests that CBD might help reduce spiciness, but it certainly doesn’t render one immune to the burn. I probably won’t be using cannabis as a secret weapon to secure any pepper-eating bragging rights.

Nick Gonzales


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