TIME Research

A Man Ate a Ghost Pepper So Hot He Ripped a Hole in His Esophagus

Case study in medical journal is a cautionary tale

Correction appended, Oct. 19

A 47-year-old man ate a pepper so hot that he ripped a 2.5-cm hole in his esophagus.

As reported by the Washington Post, the man was taking part in a food eating contest and was challenged to eat a hamburger with ghost pepper puree. The ghost pepper originally hails from India and is regarded as one of the spiciest foods in the world, coming in at third place on Guinness World Records’ list of the world’s hottest chilies.

Also known by the name bhut jolokia, the pepper is ranked at 1 million on the Scoville Scale, which is a system for measuring the spiciness of different substances. To compare, a bell pepper is zero units on the scale, the fiery Scotch Bonnet is 350,000 units and the world’s hottest pepper, called the Carolina Reaper, is 1.5 million units.

The case study was originally featured in the Journal of Emergency Medicine, where the man is described as having reacted to eating the pepper by “violent retching and vomiting.” After it was discovered that this reaction to the pepper had torn a hole in his esophagus, which can be fatal, the patient was kept in the hospital for 23 days while surgeons worked on repairing the damage, and he was eventually discharged with a gastric tube in place.

[The Washington Post]

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the cause of the man’s esophageal hole. It was caused by retching and vomiting after he consumed the hot pepper.

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