Migraine Treatment Experiences: Capsaicin Nose Spray

Capsaicin is the active ingredient in pepper spray — yes the same stuff used to subdue unruly prisoners in your local penal institution.

It is also the chemical used in research to trigger the pain response because it is universally, and powerfully effective in doing just that — evoking pain.

Capsaicin is extremely potent. When applied to the skin it has lingering effects and can last literally for days. I have had back trouble most of my life and have used strong capsaicin creams when my back was especially bad. To reactivate it after a day or so, simply sweat, or get it a little wet in the shower and *wheeeee!*

Directions on the labels of capsaicin creams generally tell the person applying the hot stuff to wear gloves. There is a very good reason for this. It is difficult if not nearly impossible to wash off with any ease at all, and if you use your fingers to apply it then accidentally touch the corner of your nose or eyes, you’ll know it and remember those gloves the next time. (Can you tell I’m speaking from experience?)

I am generally not considered an especially crazy person, but when I was faced with 2 doctors who told me my chronic intractable Migraine was “hopeless” and there was nothing else they could do to help me, I gave up. At first that is. But my pain was unbearable, so in desperation I figured, what have I got to lose? Nothing. I began to look for alternative methods of treating my daily pain which was so bad that yes, I even tried — and for a while used — capsaicin nose spray.

There are a couple brands currently available over the counter or through the mail. All contain varying amounts of the active ingredient — capsaicin. The literature on it says that capsaicin helps to inhibit substance P and this is how it supposedly treats cluster headache and Migraine.

Substance P is a protein found in the brain and spinal cord and was discovered in 1931. Although it is involved in several physiological functions, its primary function seems to be the transmission of pain signals. The theory is, if we can find a way to inhibit substance P or the body’s reaction to it, we might be able to treat pain. Massage therapy also inhibits substance P, but I digress… This is where capsaicin comes into play.

Apparently, by purposefully sniffing pepper spray up my nose it might help stop the transmission of pain signals currently using my trigeminal nerves as a super highway. Of course, some of the literature I was reading said this could take months to actually occur.

It was fairly inexpensive, required no prescription and wouldn’t interact with the meds I was currently taking. I was in such pain I couldn’t imagine life continuing on much longer like that, so I had literally nothing to lose by trying it.

I admit that when it arrived I was both excited and afraid. I was not anxious to purposefully snort pepper spray (especially after my previous experience with topical cream — I had a pretty good idea what I was in for) and despite the pain that was already ruining my life, it took me a little while to get up the nerve to take my first sniff.

But I did.

It took far fewer guts to order the bottle with the highest amount of capsaicin in it I could find, than it did to actually use it.

The first sniff and I thought someone had rammed a red hot poker up my nose and through my brain behind my eye. Thankfully the feeling only lasted a minute or so. While that poker was up my nose, I forgot about my Migraine. Actually, I have to admit that the spray kind of helped me because for a little while (minutes) after using it, I did feel somewhat better.

It was a moment’s pain for a couple moment’s relief. It was enough for me. I would take that little relief, that tiny respite from my pain and put up with the whole hot poker up my nose thing.

I continued using the bottle until it and the next 2 bottles that came in my box were gone. By the time they were used up, I had a new neurologist who I had finally convinced to test my B12 level. We’d found a problem and I was feeling a little better with injections.

I can’t tell you if the spray was really doing what it was supposed to (inhibit substance P) or just that it was such a shock to my nerves that they didn’t know what to do with themselves for a few moments. The relief never lasted long, but sometimes it was enough that I could survive a few hours until my next dose. For me, that was enough.

I’ve been asked if I would suggest other patients try it. I guess my reply would still be — check with your doctor. If they give the okay, and you have the guts to try it, then why not? Now that I know massage therapy does the same thing I’d personally give that a go first, but if you are like I was, and you have nothing else to try and nothing to lose, then there is nothing but the potential for gain…

Or a red hot poker up your nose and into your brain.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.
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