Food and Dishes Use
Because of the burning sensation caused by capsaicin when it comes in contact with mucous membranes, it is commonly used in food products to provide added spice or "heat" (piquancy), usually in the form of spices such as chili powder and paprika. In high concentrations, capsaicin will also cause a burning effect on other sensitive areas, such as skin or eyes. The degree of heat found within a food is often measured on the subjective Scoville scale. Because people enjoy the heat, there has long been a demand for capsaicin-spiced products like curry, chili con carne, and hot sauces such as Tabasco sauce and salsa.
It is common for people to experience pleasurable and even euphoric effects from ingesting capsaicin. Folklore among self-described "chiliheads" attributes this to pain-stimulated release of endorphins, a different mechanism from the local receptor overload that makes capsaicin effective as a topical analgesic.
Research and Pharmaceutical Use
Capsaicin is used as an analgesic in topical ointments, nasal sprays (Sinol-M), and dermal patches to relieve pain, typically in concentrations between 0.025% and 0.1%. It may be applied in cream form for the temporary relief of minor aches and pains of muscles and joints associated with arthritis, backache, strains and sprains, often in compounds with other rubefacients.
It is also used to reduce the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy such as post-herpetic neuralgia caused by shingles. Capsaicin transdermal patch (Qutenza) for the management of this particular therapeutic indication (pain due to post-herpetic neuralgia) was approved as a therapeutic by the U.S. FDA, but a subsequent application for Qutenza to be used as an analgesic in HIV neuralgia was refused.
Although capsaicin creams have been used to treat psoriasis for reduction of itching, a review of six clinical trials involving topical capsaicin for treatment of pruritus concluded there was insufficient evidence of effect.
There is insufficient clinical evidence to determine the role of ingested capsaicin on a variety of human disorders, including obesity, diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
Pepper Spray and Pests Use
Capsaicin is also an active ingredient in riot control and personal defense pepper spray agents. When the spray comes in contact with skin, especially eyes or mucous membranes, it produces pain and breathing difficulty, discouraging assailants. Refer to the Scoville scale for a comparison of pepper spray to other sources of capsaicin.
Capsaicin is also used to deter pests, specifically mammalian pests. Targets of capsaicin repellants include voles, deer, rabbits, squirrels, bears, insects, and attacking dogs. Ground or crushed dried chili pods may be used in birdseed to deter rodents, taking advantage of the insensitivity of birds to capsaicin. The Elephant Pepper Development Trust claims the use of chili peppers to improve crop security for rural African communities. Notably, an article published in the Journal of Environmental Science and Health in 2006 states that "Although hot chili pepper extract is commonly used as a component of household and garden insect-repellent formulas, it is not clear that the capsaicinoid elements of the extract are responsible for its repellency."
The first pesticide product using solely capsaicin as the active ingredient was registered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1962.
Equestrian Sports Use
Capsaicin is a banned substance in equestrian sports because of its hypersensitizing and pain-relieving properties. At the show jumping events of the 2008 Summer Olympics, four horses tested positive for the substance, which resulted in disqualification.