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World's hottest chili pepper tied to 'thunderclap' headache

Eating insanely hot peppers could have painful consequences beyond just burning your tongue and insides, according to this cautionary medical tale.

Hot peppers may have consequences.

Lori Grunin/CNET

One young man followed his dreams of hot-pepper-eating glory all the way to the emergency room. 

A team of doctors from New York and Michigan published details of an unusual medical case to the journal BMJ Case Reports this week and it reads like a culinary horror story. 

A 34-year-old man participated in a pepper-eating contest, ate a single Carolina Reaper and checked into the ER with a thunderclap headache, a severe headache that hits its peak within 60 seconds of onset. 

The Carolina Reaper currently holds the Guinness World Record for hottest chili pepper. Guinness says it averages around 1.6 million Scoville Heat Units. The Scoville scale is a way of measuring the heat of peppers, and for comparison, a jalapeno rates around 8,000.

The pepper-eating patient experienced dry heaves immediately after consuming the beast and then developed an intense headache and neck pain. The thunderclap headaches reoccurred over the next few days. BMJ describes the headaches as "crushingly painful."

The yellow arrows point to a constricted artery (left) and how it looked five weeks later (right).

Satish Kumar Boddhula, et al.

The doctors scanned the man's brain and found constricted arteries, which they say was likely due to the ingestion of the Carolina Reaper. This is the first reported case of this sort of reaction to eating a hot pepper. 

"Treatment is observation and removal of the offending agent," the case study notes. The man recovered over time and a brain scan taken five weeks later showed his arteries had returned to normal. We're left with a cautionary tale about the potential power of peppers. 

The amusingly named PuckerButt Pepper Company, creator of the Carolina Reaper, describes the experience of eating one: "A roasted sweetness delivering an instant level of heat never before achieved continuing with an increasing tidal wave of scorching fire that grips you from head to toe. Eyes glaze. Brows perspire. Arms flail. CAUTION! CAUTION! CAUTION! CAUTION! CAUTION!"

If you still want to try one after reading all this, you're a truly brave lover of peppers. 

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