Resiniferatoxin, also known by the abbreviation RTX, is a chemical compound produced by the resin spurge, a cactus-like plant found on the slopes of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. It can also be found elsewhere in the world in plants of the spurge family.
Pure resiniferatoxin carries a rating of 16,000,000,000 SHU (Scoville Heat Units) on the Scoville heat and pungency scale; that is one-thousand times stronger than pure capsaicin, the chemical compound responsible for the burning sensation felt when you eat a pepper, and over three-thousand times more powerful than police grade pepper spray.
Resiniferatoxin is highly toxic and may cause chemical burns when coming in contact with skin; so it must be handled with the greatest of care. A slight smear on tender skin will produce a blister in a short amount of time. Furthermore, a person standing too close to a plant bleeding latex that contains resiniferatoxin may feel a burning sensation in their throat. Ingestion can cause severe swelling, permanent loss of sensation, serious injury, or even death.
Given resiniferatoxin’s dangerous effects, it may seem contradictory, but preliminary medical research has indicated that resiniferatoxin may be effective in alleviating pain for those suffering from advanced forms of cancer, severe arthritis, and other chronic conditions.
Resiniferatoxin binds to a protein called VR1, which is a channel on the surface of certain types of pain-sensing nerve cells. This causes an influx of calcium to flow through the VR1 channels. By doing so, the pain is effectively extinguished by a flood of calcium to the nerve cells, akin to a fire hose putting out a raging fire. However, research into medical uses for resiniferatoxin is still in its early stages, and pain researchers have also discovered that resiniferatoxin may lower the body’s ability to fight off bacterial infections, such as sepsis.
Impure resiniferatoxin is used is in a variety of ways. Farmers in northern Nigeria use the latex produced by euphorbia poissoni plants, which contain resiniferatoxin, as a pesticide. In the Indies and Indonesia, similar latex containing resiniferatoxin is used as a fish poison. Latex from plants producing resiniferatoxin have also been used to poison the tips of arrows in parts of Africa.
How accurate is this article? We are striving to become the ultimate resource for information on peppers, and if you notice any inaccuracies, or want to contribute content, please contact us.