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When preparing dinner, my friend and I sometimes argue over the amount of pepper. It is often ‘too hot’ for him while I enjoy the heat effects (endorphins) of capsaicin (chili peppers) and piperine (black pepper). Is there a way to experience the endorphins effects of pepper without a burning sensation?

  • To begin to answer that question, one would need to know where the endorphins end and the burning sensation begins. I have always enjoyed "heat" followed by something "cooling" (yogurt or sour cream for example), but I can't begin to put that in terms that fit in the language of the question. – Jolenealaska Oct 8 '15 at 10:20
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    You realize that you can always spice up your own plate, right? – Stephie Oct 8 '15 at 11:18
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    What Stephie said. Some of us like our taste buds, and have no compulsion to try to burn them off. – Marti Oct 8 '15 at 16:01
  • Twice now I have eaten food spicy enough to get me high. Was Thai curry, I always used to have to coach the server that I really want 5 star spicy. Twice I think the cook said, ok white boy, and laid it on thick like 1/2 inch of spice mud on top. Once you have that much on it doesn't get any spicier per se, but it gave me a right good high. I thought I hurt myself when I looked up what capsicum spice active ingredient is...it's a neurotoxin. – Escoce Oct 8 '15 at 18:32
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    Others of us like our taste buds and want to help them evolve to greatness by killing off the weak. – Dan Neely Oct 8 '15 at 21:30
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According to my research, the effect of capsaicin that causes the burning sensation is indirectly responsible for the pleasurable release of endorphins, which are the brain's way of counter-acting the pain sensation. If you don't feel any burn, then you probably haven't consumed enough capsaicin to trigger the endorphin rush.

This source from Northwestern University provides the most succinct summary:

Capsaicinoids trick the brain into thinking it is being burned, which is a painful experience, through the transmission of neurotransmitters [...] The brain responds by releasing another type of neurotransmitter known as endorphins. Endorphins are the body’s natural way of relieving pain by blocking the nerve’s ability to transmit pain signals.

  • @rumtscho After reading through the chat comments, I agree with most of your arguments. It does seem like this is largely a debate about the meaning of the term "pain" and an appropriate level of biological accuracy vs. practical simplification. Regardless, the last line of my answer was intended jovially and it doesn't really add anything, so I'll remove it, and hope that alleviates your concern. If you find references to those empirical observations, I think they could only improve the answer and I'd welcome learning more about the effects. – logophobe Oct 9 '15 at 2:57
  • @logophobe I agree that this is a fascinating area of knowledge, although it's very far removed from cooking. I am removing the previous discussion, because by now I think it was inappropriate of me to start it here, in the way I did. I don't have capsaicin-specific references (at least not about the pain/endorphin response strength), but if I find them, or if you find some, we can always talk about them in chat. – rumtscho Oct 9 '15 at 11:05
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No. There really isn't a way to experience endorphin release without participating in an activity that releases endorphins.

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