Hot wings are a staple food of any sports bar. While the vast majority of people enjoy wings for their delicious zest and signature kick of spice, most don’t venture in the mysterious shadowlands of its-so-hot-I’m-hallucinating-oh-my-goodness-how-am-I-buzzed-from-a-piece-of-chicken type of experience. Perhaps you’re curious about what this feels like, or maybe you’d prefer to experience it vicariously through an unwitting friend. Either way, one can be overcome with a fog of exhilaration after exposure to spicy food due to a chemical called capsaicin. Capsaicin is the natural ingredient in chili peppers that make them hot. It is considered an irritant to humans, producing a burning sensation on any tissue it comes in contact with. Capsaicin is the compound used in pepper spray and other riot control agents because it produces pain and breathing difficulty.
Pain Begets Pleasure Begets Pain
Why then do hot wing aficionados always seem to want the sauce that will scorch the most? Incidentally, the hottest wings also have the most concentrated capsaicin. When it comes right down to it, spiciness is not really a flavor. It is a sensation interpreted by your brain as pain. In response to this searing discomfort, your brain releases endorphins and dopamine to block the nerve’s ability to transmit pain signals. Large amounts of intensely spicy food can trigger a sense of euphoria and even hallucinatory effects in the person eating them. As one becomes more adjusted to a spicy sensation, they need higher and more concentrated levels of capsaicin to achieve the same euphoric result. So if you ever happen to see someone sweating profusely and crying while scarfing down ghost chili’s like popcorn, just remember they’re the epitome of serenity and bliss on the inside!
One should always take precautions before eating a hot wing that could alter your perception of reality. Some restaurants will even require you to sign a waiver before you’re allowed to try the said chicken. Whatever your threshold for the spicier wings your local sports bar has to offer, don’t forget: it’s all in your head. If you feel buzzed afterward, thank the capsaicin.