A ball and stick model showing the chemical structure of capsaicin.

Capsaicin is the active ingredient in red-hot chili peppers. It is a member of the vanilloid family of alkaloids that binds to the TRP ion channel, TRPV1 causing nerve fiber excitation. These channels usually fire spontaneously when exposed to temperatures above 43 degrees Celsius, which explains the sensation of warmth that is felt when they are stimulated by other agonists such as capsaicin. Prolonged stimulation of these channels causes depletion of the neurotransmitter substance P and a period analgesia.

Capsaicin is usually used in topical ointments at concentrations between 0.025-0.075% to treat chronic pain. After a period of intense burning these preparations usually produce pain relief lasting several hours. Recently a highly concentrated preparation Qutenza, an 8% patch, has become available. This form of the drug used for the long-term treatment of neuropathic pain causes such intense pain on application that intended site must be completely anesthetized prior to application. This form of the drug produces long-lasting results, 3-6 months, probably by means of a chemical denervation.

Red hot chili peppers are the source for the drug capsaicin which can be used to treat certain types of neuropathic pain.

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