A colleague of mine, concerned about becoming 30 and suddenly having a low tolerance to everything, was wondering why he’s been feeling increasingly woozy while eating spicy food. He’s noted that he feels buzzed, not unlike what others describe as “getting high”.
So can you get or feel high from eating spicy food? Well, it depends a lot on what you mean by “high”, so let’s dig in.
The word “high” is certainly a nebulous one. It means a range of things, and it’s used in a fairly colloquial manner. The high you get from taking ecstasy – an alert, buzzy feeling where external stimuli seem more intense – is certainly very different from the high you get from cannabis; depending on the strain and the varying amounts of CBD and THC in it, this drug can make you feel more chilled out or more spaced out.
You can also get a “high” after experiencing an adrenaline rush, triggered by, say, a skydive. If you enjoy running, the production of endocannabinoids within your body can give you a “runner’s high” not dissimilar to the one you get from using cannabis products.
According to Merriam-Webster, these all generally refer to definition 12b: “intoxicated by or as if by a drug or alcohol”, i.e. “high on cocaine.” So now that’s clear, can spicy food get you high, or make you feel high, in this way?
It certainly seems that way, and the blame can be laid with capsaicinoids, a family of plant components that belong to the Capsicum genus. The most well known is capsaicin – real name (6E)-N-[(4-Hydroxy-3-methoxyphenyl)methyl]-8-methylnon-6-enamide, by the way. These are found in various parts of the fleshy innards of the fruit of the plant, especially in the white slithers to which the seeds, which don’t produce any themselves, are attached.
It’s already a little peculiar that we eat chili peppers rich with the stuff, because it’s thought that it evolved through natural selection as a way of deterring animals from eating it.