Pepper spray

Pepper spray
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Riot control agents
Pepper spray (OC)
CN (mace)

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Pepper spray, also known as OC spray (from "Oleoresin Capsicum"), OC gas, and capsicum spray, is a lachrymatory agent (a chemical compound that irritates the eyes to cause tears, pain, and even temporary blindness) that is used in riot control, crowd control, and personal self-defence, including defence against dogs and bears.[1] Its inflammatory effects cause the eyes to close, taking away vision. This temporary blindness allows officers to more easily restrain subjects and permits persons using pepper spray for self-defense an opportunity to escape.

Although considered a less-than-lethal agent, it may be deadly in rare cases, and concerns have been raised about a number of deaths where being pepper sprayed may have been a contributing factor.[2]

The active ingredient in pepper spray is capsaicin, which is a chemical derived from the fruit of plants in the Capsicum genus, including chilis. Extraction of oleoresin capsicum from peppers involves finely ground capsicum, from which capsaicin is extracted in an organic solvent such as ethanol. The solvent is then evaporated, and the remaining waxlike resin is the oleoresin capsicum. An emulsifier such as propylene glycol is used to suspend the OC in water, and pressurized to make it aerosol in pepper spray. The high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) method is used to measure the amount of capsaicin and major capsaicinoids within pepper sprays.

A synthetic analogue of capsaicin, pelargonic acid vanillylamide (desmethyldihydrocapsaicin), is used in another version of pepper spray known as PAVA spray which is used in the United Kingdom. Another synthetic counterpart of pepper spray, pelargonic acid morpholide, was developed and is widely used in Russia. Its effectiveness compared to natural pepper spray is unclear.

Pepper spray typically comes in canisters, which are often small enough to be carried or concealed in a pocket or purse. Pepper spray can also be bought concealed in items such as rings. There are also pepper spray projectiles available, which can be fired from a paintball gun. It has been used for years against demonstrators. Many such canisters also contain dyes, either visible or UV-reactive, to mark an attacker's skin and/or clothing to enhance identification by police.

The word Mace, a registered trademark of Mace Security International, is often used synonymously with pepper spray or tear gas; Mace was one of the original manufacturers of nonlethal security sprays in the US. However, not all of their products can be considered pepper spray.



Pepper spray demonstration

Pepper spray is an inflammatory agent. It causes immediate closing of the eyes, difficulty breathing, runny nose, and coughing.[3] The duration of its effects depends on the strength of the spray but the average full effect lasts around thirty to forty-five minutes, with diminished effects lasting for hours.

The Journal of Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science published a study that concluded that single exposure of the eye to OC is harmless, but repeated exposure can result in long-lasting changes in corneal sensitivity. They found no lasting decrease in visual acuity.[4]

US Marines training after being exposed to pepper spray

The European Parliament Scientific and Technological Options Assessment (STOA) published in 1998 “An Appraisal of Technologies of Political Control”[5] with extensive information on pepper spray and tear gas. They write:

The effects of pepper spray are far more severe, including temporary blindness which lasts from 15–30 minutes, a burning sensation of the skin which lasts from 45 to 60 minutes, upper body spasms which force a person to bend forward and uncontrollable coughing making it difficult to breathe or speak for between 3 to 15 minutes.

For those with asthma, taking other drugs, or subject to restraining techniques which restrict the breathing passages, there is a risk of death. The Los Angeles Times has reported at least 61 deaths associated with police use of pepper spray since 1990 in the USA.[6] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) documented 27 people in police custody who died after exposure to pepper spray in California since 1993.[2][7][8] However, the ACLU report counts any death occurring within hours of exposure to pepper spray. In all 27 cases, the coroners' report listed other factors as the primary cause of death, though in some cases the use of pepper spray may have been a contributing factor.[2]

The US Army concluded in a 1993 Aberdeen Proving Ground study that pepper spray could cause "[m]utagenic effects, carcinogenic effects, sensitization, cardiovascular and pulmonary toxicity, neurotoxicity, as well as possible human fatalities. There is a risk in using this product on a large and varied population".[9] However, the pepper spray was widely approved in the US despite the reservations of the US military scientists after it passed FBI tests in 1991. As of 1999, it was in use by more than 2000 public safety agencies.[10]

The head of the FBI's Less-Than-Lethal Weapons Program at the time of the 1991 study, Special Agent Thomas W. W. Ward, was fired by the FBI and was sentenced to two months in prison for receiving payments from a peppergas manufacturer while conducting and authoring the FBI study that eventually approved pepper spray for FBI use.[8][11][12] Prosecutors said that from December 1989 through 1990, Ward received about $5,000 a month for a total of $57,500, from Luckey Police Products, a Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based company that was a major producer and supplier of pepper spray. The payments were paid through a Florida company owned by Ward's wife.[13]

Pepper spray has been associated with positional asphyxiation of individuals in police custody. There is much debate over the actual "cause" of death in these cases. There have been few controlled clinical studies of the human health effects of pepper spray marketed for police use, and those studies are contradictory. Some studies have found no harmful effects beyond the effects described above.[14]

Direct close-range spray can cause more serious eye irritation by attacking the cornea with a concentrated stream of liquid (the so-called "hydraulic needle" effect). Some brands have addressed this problem by means of an elliptically cone shaped spray pattern.

Deactivation and first aid

Capsaicin is not soluble in water, and even large volumes of water will not wash it off. Victims are generally encouraged to blink vigorously in order to encourage tears, which will help flush the irritant from the eyes.

A formal study of five often-recommended treatments for skin pain (Maalox, 2% lidocaine gel, baby shampoo, milk, or water) concluded that:[15][16]

"...there was no significant difference in pain relief provided by five different treatment regimens. Time after exposure appeared to be the best predictor for decrease in pain..."

Dilute Chlorine Bleach has been used with very good results in ER situations for external use only (non-occular application). A 1 part to 5 part water solution is recommended. Using contact lens wetting solution seems to help occular relief.

To avoid rubbing the spray into the skin, thereby prolonging the burning sensation, and in order to not spread the compound to other parts of the body, victims should try to avoid touching affected areas. There are also wipes, manufactured[17] for the express purpose of serving to decontaminate someone who has received a dose of pepper spray. Many ambulance services and emergency departments use baby shampoo to remove the spray and with generally good effect. Some of the OC and CS will remain in the respiratory system, but a recovery of vision and the coordination of the eyes can be expected within 7 to 15 minutes.[18]

Some "triple-action" pepper sprays also contain "tear gas" (CS gas), which can be neutralized with sodium metabisulfite (Campden tablets, used in homebrewing), though it, too, is not water soluble and needs to be washed off using the same procedure as for pepper spray.


Pepper spray is banned for use in war by Article I.5 of the Chemical Weapons Convention which bans the use of all riot control agents in warfare whether lethal or less-than-lethal. In the US, when pepper spray is used in the workplace, OSHA requires a pepper spray MSDS be available to all employees .[citation needed]


In Hong Kong, pepper spray is classified as "arms" under the "Laws of Hong Kong". Chap 238 Firearms and Ammunition Ordinance. Without a valid license from the Hong Kong Police Force, it is a crime to possess and can result in a fine of $100,000 and to imprisonment for 14 years.[19]

In India pepper spray is legal and does not require any licence; however they are sold via government approved companies after performing a background verification. [20]

In Iran the use of pepper spray is forbidden and is only used by police forces.[citation needed]

In Iraq OC spray is carried by U.S. military guard force members working in detainee operations.[citation needed]

In The Philippines the use of pepper spray for self defence is legal, and it is freely available in stores.[citation needed]

In South Korea Pepper spray containing OC is legal; however, gas-gun types need a simple licence to own. CS is only available for police and private security firms.[citation needed]


Police, like this Swedish police officer in riot gear at a 2007 demonstration, use pepper spray to control civilians.

In Belgium it is classified as a prohibited weapon, and it is illegal for anyone other than police officers to carry a capsicum spray.[21] The use by the security services of public transport companies is also authorised after obtaining permission from the minister of internal affairs.[22]

In Denmark possession of pepper spray is illegal for private citizens.[23] As of 2008, police officers carry pepper spray as part of their standard equipment. This was introduced following the shooting of a number of mentally ill citizens in 2006, where 4 people were killed.[citation needed] However, the police continues using guns as frequently as before, causing the Danish civil liberties organization KRIM to conclude that pepper spray has not displaced the use of guns, but merely added to the arsenal of weapons of the police force.[citation needed]

In Finland it is classified as a device governed by the firearm act and possession of pepper spray requires a licence. Licences are issued for defensive purposes and to individuals working jobs where such a device is needed such as the private security sector.[24] The Finnish Supreme Court, although, has recently ruled in KKO:2010:7 that owning a pepper spray in itself is not a punishable act; but on the other hand, carrying one can be punished as a device capable of harming other people.

In Germany pepper sprays labelled for the purpose of defence against animals may be owned and carried by anyone (even minors). Such sprays are not legally considered as weapons §1. Carrying it at (or on the way to and from) demonstrations may still be punished [25] Sprays that are not labelled "animal-defence spray" or do not bear the test mark of the Materialprüfungsanstalt de:Materialprüfungsanstalt (MPA) (material testing institute) are classified as prohibited weapons. Justified use against humans as self-defence is allowed.[26] CS sprays bearing a test mark of the MPA may be owned and carried by anyone over the age of 14.[27]

In Hungary pepper spray is reserved for law enforcement (including civilian members of the auxiliary police), civilians may carry canisters filled with maximum 20 gramms of any other lachrymatory agent. However there is no restriction for pepper gas pistol cartridges.[28]

In the Republic of Ireland, an Garda Síochána have recently been given pepper spray in an attempt to reduce attacks on its officers, however they remain an unarmed force. Possession of this spray by persons other than Gardaí is an offence under the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act, as the spray is legally classed as a firearm.

In Italy pepper spray is generally considered a weapon, and thus illegal to carry and use without proper permit. However, a limited number of products (3 as of 14 February 2011) has been approved for general use.[29]

In Iceland possession of pepper spray is illegal for private citizens. Police officers carry pepper spray as part of their standard equipment.

In Latvia pepper spray in canisters is classified as a self-defence device and can be bought and carried by anyone over 16 years of age, and pepper spray handguns can be bought and carried without any licence by anyone over 18.

In the Netherlands pepper spray is illegal for civilians to own and carry. Only police officers who are trained in the specific use of pepper spray are allowed to carry and use it against civilians and animals.

In Norway pepper spray is illegal for civilians. Police officers are allowed to carry pepper spray as part of their standard equipment

In Poland hand-held pepper spray (called precisely in Polish Penal Code "a hand-held disabling gas thrower") is considered a weapon, but can be carried by anyone over 18 without further registration or permission.[30]

In Romania pepper spray is unregulated.[citation needed]

In Russia pepper sprays are classified as a self-defence device (not a weapon) and can be carried by anyone over 18. Usage against humans is legal. OC is not the only agent used, CS, CR, PAM (МПК) and (rarely) CN are also perfectly legal and highly popular.

In Slovakia pepper spray is classified as a self-defence weapon, and it is available to anyone over 18. Use against humans is officially prohibited.

In Switzerland pepper sprays are classified as a self-defence device (not a weapon) and can be carried by anyone. Use against humans is legal.[31]

In Spain approved pepper spray made with 5% CS is available to anyone older than 18 years. Recently adopted for some civilian use, OC pepper spray (e.g. one of 22 grams, with no registration DGSP-07-22-SDP, is approved by the Ministry of Health and Consumption).

In Sweden, possession of pepper spray is legal with a weapons possession license. Police officers, prison officers, and military police have pepper spray possession licenses.[citation needed]

In the United Kingdom, "Any weapon of whatever description designed or adapted for the discharge of any noxious liquid, gas or other thing" is a Prohibited Weapon, under S.5 of The Firearms Act 1968. The same act covers other prohibited weapons such as automatic firearms and rocket launchers, all of which can only be possessed by permission of the Home Secretary.

North America


In Canada all products with a label containing the words pepper spray, mace, etc., or otherwise originally produced for use on humans are classified as a prohibited weapon.[32] Only law enforcement officers may legally carry or possess pepper spray. Any similar canister with the labels reading "dog spray" and/or "bear spray" is regulated under the Pest Control Products Act - while legal to be carried by anyone, it is against the law if its use causes 'a risk of imminent death or serious bodily harm to another person' or harming the environment and carries a penalty up to a fine of $500,000 and jail time of maximum 3 years.[33]

In April, 2011, the creator of a system to integrate pepper spray with a home security system was charged with trafficking in illegal weapons. It was also designed to be installed in cars.[34]

United States

In California, the container holding the defense spray must contain no more than 2.5 ounces (71 g) net weight of aerosol spray.[35]

In Massachusetts, residents may purchase defense sprays only from licensed Firearms Dealers in that state, and must hold a valid Firearms Identification Card (FID) or License to Carry Firearms (LTC) to purchase or to possess outside of one's own private property.[36] It is classed as "ammunition",[37] unlicensed possession of which is punishable by up to 2 years in prison.[38]

The state of Michigan allows "reasonable use" of spray containing not more than 10% oleoresin capsicum to protect "a person or property under circumstances that would justify the person's use of physical force".[39]

In the state of New York, pepper spray may be legally possessed by any person age 18 or over; however, it must be purchased in person (i.e. cannot be purchased by mail-order or internet sale) either at a pharmacy or from a licensed firearm retailer (NY Penal Law 265.20 14 (a)), and the seller must keep a record of purchases. The use of pepper spray to prevent a public official from performing his/her official duties is a class-E felony.

New Jersey allows non-felons over the age of 18 to possess a small amount of pepper spray, with no more than three quarters of an ounce of chemical substance.[40]

In the state of Washington, persons over 18 may carry personal-protection spray devices. Persons over age 14 may carry personal-protection spray devices with their legal guardian's consent.[41]

In Wisconsin, tear gas is not permissible. By regulation, OC products with a maximum OC concentration of 10% and weight range of oleoresin of capsicum and inert ingredients of 15-60 grams are authorized. This is 12 and 2 oz (14 and 57 g). spray. Further, the product cannot be camouflaged, and must have a safety feature designed to prevent accidental discharge. The units may not have an effective range of over 20 feet and must have an effective range of six feet. In addition there are certain labeling and packaging requirements: must state cannot sell to anyone under 18 and the phone number of the manufacturer has to be on the label. The units must also be sold in sealed tamper-proof packages.[42][43]

In many (but not all) other states, pepper spray can be purchased at various stores and carried legally by anyone over 18. However, many states do not say anything about age.

South America

In Brazil, pepper spray are classified as weapon by Federal Act n° 3665/2000 (Regulation for Fiscalization of Controlled Products). Only law enforcement officers and private security agents with recognized Less Lethal Weapons training certificate, can carry it. However, for civilian use, a Brazilian firm developed a defensive spray that uses non-controlled chemical compounds, extracted from lemons and onions. Civilians also can use the ACDC spray ("adesivo para controle de distúrbios civis" - civilian disorder control adhesive), a non-toxic adhesive compound that block the nostrils and keep the eyes closed.


Front page, The West Australian, 28 March 2003.

In the Northern Territory of Australia pepper spray is prescribed by regulation to be a prohibited weapon under the Weapons Control Act.[44] This legislation makes it an offence for someone without permit, normally anyone who is not an officer of Police/Correctional Services/Customs/Defence, to carry a prohibited weapon.

In the state of Tasmania, possession of pepper spray by unauthorised persons is illegal, under an amendment of the Police Offences Act 1935, being classified as an, "Offensive weapon". Similarly, possession of knives, batons and other any other instrument that may be considered, "Offensive Weapons" if they are possessed by an individual, in a Public Place, "Without lawful excuse". Self-defence is not a lawful excuse to carry such items. Authority to possess and use Oleo-resin Capsicum devices remains with Tasmania Police Officers (As part of general-issue operational equipment), and Tasmanian Justice Department (H.M. Prisons) Officers.

Possession of pepper spray by individuals for self defence has been legal in Western Australia since 28 March 2003, following the landmark Supreme Court decision in Hall v Collins [2003] WASCA 74 (4 April 2003).[45]

In New Zealand, pepper spray is classed as a restricted weapon.[46] This means people would need a permit from the police to obtain or carry pepper spray. Front-line police officers have routinely carried pepper spray since 1997,[47] and it may also be used by staff in correctional institutions.[48]

See also


  1. ^ Bear Spray Vs. Dogs: How Effective Is It?
  2. ^ a b c Pepper_Spray_New_Questions
  3. ^ Effects Of Pepper Spray
  4. ^ Effects of Oleoresin Capsicum Pepper Spray on Human Corneal Morphology and Sensitivity - Vesaluoma et al. 41 (8): 2138 - Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science
  5. ^ pg 35
  6. ^ Los Angeles Times June 18, 1995
  7. ^ ACLU, Oleoresin Capsicum - Pepper Spray Update, More Fatalities, More Questions, June, 1995, p. 2.
  8. ^ a b "Pepper spray's lethal legacy" in Ottawa Citizen. October 22, 1998, p. A1.
  9. ^ Salem, 1993
  10. ^ Smith CG, Stopford W (1999). "Health hazards of pepper spray". N C Med J 60 (5): 268–74. PMID 10495655.  Archived at
  11. ^ "Former F.B.I. Agent Is Sentenced to Prison" in The New York Times. May 20, 1996, p. B8.
  12. ^ "Ex-FBI Agent Pleads Guilty in Conflict-of-Interest Case" in The Washington Post. February 13, 1996, p. A12.
  13. ^ "Pepper spray study is tainted", San Francisco Chronicle. May 20, 1996, p. B8.
  14. ^ Reay DT. Forensic pathology, part 1: death in custody. Clinics in Lab Med 1998;18:19–20; Watson WA, Stremel KR, and Westdorp EJ. Oleoresin capsicum (cap-stun) toxicity from aerosol exposures. Ann Pharmacotherapy 1996;30:733–5.
  15. ^ "A Randomized Controlled Trial Comparing Treatment Regimens for Acute Pain for Topical Oleoresin Capsaicin (Pepper Spray) Exposure in Adult Volunteers - Prehospital Emergency Care". 2008-09-04. Retrieved 2010-05-30.  broken link
  16. ^ references the same article, but only as the abstract accessed 20110117
  17. ^ Fox Labs: Pepper Spray Manufacturer.
  18. ^ Young, D., Police Marksman Magazine, July/August 1995 Issue.
  19. ^ HK Laws. Chap 238 Firearms and Ammunition Ordinance Section 2
  20. ^ "Magazine : Safety is a right too". The Hindu. 2008-10-19. Retrieved 2010-05-30. 
  21. ^ "Nieuwe wapenwet (New Gun Law)". Retrieved 2008-04-15. 
  22. ^ K.B. of 10 june 2006 tot regeling van het model, de inhoud, de wijze van dragen en het gebruik van spuitbussen en handboeien door de leden van de veiligheidsdiensten van de openbare vervoersmaatschappijen(B.S. 20 june 2006.
  23. ^ Bekendtgørelse af lov om våben og eksplosivstoffer
  24. ^ "How your gun permit applications are considered". 2007-10-21. ISSN 1797-1993. Retrieved 2008-03-23. 
  25. ^ §2 VersammlG.
  26. ^ §32 StGB
  27. ^ Ministerium des Inneren on Weapon Laws (german).
  28. ^ 175/2003. (X. 28.) Korm. rendelet a közbiztonságra különösen veszélyes eszközökről.
  29. ^ [1]
  30. ^ "Rozdział 2. Zasady i warunki wydawania, cofania pozwoleń na broń, rejestracji broni oraz dysponowania bronią i amunicją" (in pl). Ustawa o broni i aminucji. Marszałek Sejmu Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej. 2004-03-18. pp. art. 11. Retrieved 5 May 2011. 
  31. ^ Bern Police - FAQ.
  32. ^ "Regulations Prescribing Certain Firearms and other Weapons, Components and Parts of Weapons, Accessories, Cartridge Magazines, Ammunition and Projectiles as Prohibited or Restricted (SOR/98-462)". Retrieved 2008-06-15. 
  33. ^ Pest Control Products Act ( 2002, c. 28 )
  34. ^ "Quebec creator of pepper spray alarm arrested for weapons trafficking". The Canadian Press. Retrieved 20 April 2011. 
  35. ^ California Penal Code, Section 22810
  36. ^ "M.G.L - Chapter 140, Section 131". 2008-10-29. Retrieved 2011-08-16. 
  37. ^ "M.G.L - Chapter 140, Section 121". 2008-10-29. Retrieved 2011-08-16. 
  38. ^ "M.G.L - Chapter 269, Section 10(h)(1)". 2008-10-29. Retrieved 2011-08-16. 
  39. ^ Michigan Penal Code 750.224d Self-defense spray or foam device
  40. ^ "Pepper Spray State Laws and Restrictions". Retrieved 2010-05-30. 
  41. ^ "RCW 9.91.160: Personal protection spray devices". Retrieved 2010-05-30. 
  42. ^ "Sale and Distribution of OC Products to Private Citizens". Retrieved 2011-09-23. 
  43. ^ "Wisconsin State Legal Statutes 941.26". Retrieved 2011-09-23. 
  44. ^ "Weapons Control Act". Retrieved 2009-02-08. 
  45. ^ The West Australian, 28 March 2003
  46. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions: Am I allowed to use, import or possess mace or OC spray?". New Zealand Police. Retrieved 18 June 2011. 
  47. ^ Broadstock, M. (2002) What is the safety of “pepper spray” use by law enforcement or mental health service staff?, NZHTA Tech Brief Series 2002; 1(2). ISBN 1-877235-39-3.
  48. ^ Arms Regulations 1992 (SR 1992/346) (as at 01 January 2010), section 30A.

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • pepper spray — pepper sprays N VAR Pepper spray is a device that causes tears and sickness and is sometimes used against rioters and attackers. The officers blasted him with pepper spray …   English dictionary

  • pepper spray — ► NOUN ▪ an aerosol spray containing irritant oils derived from cayenne pepper, used as a disabling weapon …   English terms dictionary

  • pepper spray — pepper .spray n [U and C] a substance used especially by the police for controlling people. It contains red pepper and is ↑sprayed into people s eyes to make them blind for a short time …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • pepper spray — pepper ,spray noun uncount a liquid substance that causes severe pain when it touches the eyes, and is sometimes used by the police in the U.S …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • pepper spray — noun A non lethal chemical agent which is used in riot control and personal self defense. The man who survived mustard gas and pepper spray is now a seasoned veteran. Syn: OC gas, OC spray See Also: pepper spray …   Wiktionary

  • pepper-spray — verb To douse someone with pepper spray …   Wiktionary

  • pepper spray — noun a nonlethal aerosol spray made with the pepper derivative oleoresin capiscum; used to cause temporary blindness and incapacitate an attacker; also used as a bear deterrent • Hypernyms: ↑aerosol, ↑aerosol container, ↑aerosol can, ↑aerosol… …   Useful english dictionary

  • pepper spray — noun an aerosol spray containing oils derived from cayenne pepper, irritant to the eyes and respiratory passages and used as a disabling weapon …   English new terms dictionary

  • pepper spray — /ˈpɛpə spreɪ/ (say pepuh spray) noun → capsicum spray …   Australian English dictionary

  • pepper spray — noun Date: 1989 a temporarily disabling aerosol that is composed partly of capsicum oleoresin and causes irritation and blinding of the eyes and inflammation of the nose, throat, and skin …   New Collegiate Dictionary

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