We have all heard of pepper spray and its various uses, and the sometimes requirement of those who use it in an official capacity to experience its effects by submitting, willfully or non-willfully, to being sprayed with it. We may have heard of the controversies surrounding its use, and possibly even the purported benefits to those who have had it used against them as compared to a potentially lethal alternative to being shot by a gun.
According to various research studies and surveys that have been conducted over the past decade, there is a trend of increased purchase and use of pepper spray in the United States by adult men and women. Does it represent a move toward a safe deterrent alternative to lethal methods, or is it simply an increase in the public’s awareness of and need for personal protection in these troubling times?
The following are some things to consider, or at least be aware of, if you are contemplating purchasing pepper spray.
- Pepper spray is a product designed to fulfill the purposes of personal self-protection against would be attackers, suspect submission and disablement by police officers, and police and military riot or crowd control through its ability to disperse and disorganize a group engaged in unruly or unlawful activities.
- Pepper spray is a chemical based, non-lethal considered, self-defense weapon made from the fruit of plants in the genus Capsicum, such as chili peppers. The spray’s active ingredient is capsaicin. The process to obtain capsaicin requires that oleoresin capsicum (OC) be extracted from the plant via a two-step process. Initially, the peppers must be finely ground into a powder. Then using an organic solvent like ethanol, the oleoresin capsicum (OC) is extracted and the resulting solvent, when subjected to evaporation, is the resin of oleoresin capsaicin (OC).
- It is the capsaicin and related capsaicinoids (CRC), of which there are six different types with different levels of irritation and pain production. Pepper spray manufactures are not required to state which particular types of capsaicinoids are used. This is unfortunate in that it is the percentage of total capsaicinoids, of which capsaicin is the most potent, that is most important in determining potency or effectiveness.
- While pepper spray labels show the percentage of OC, the active ingredient, it does not necessarily indicate the strength or effectiveness of the pepper spray. The percentage can include an undescribed level of oil content that may be of a high or low grade, as well as capsaicinoids, both of which could affect the potency of the pepper spray.
- Pepper spray and bear spray are made of the same active ingredient. However, personal protective pepper spray will have a 10% concentration of the active ingredient oleoresin capsicum (OC) or higher, while bear spray will only have a concentration of between 1% and 2% capsaicin and related capsaicinoids (CRC). This range level is regulated by the U.S. Government’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The goal and purpose of bear spray is to scare away an aggressive bear, not to incapacitate it or severely harm it. Bear spray should not be used on humans, and self-protection pepper spray should not be substituted for use on bears.
To this end, self-protection pepper spray usually comes in a smaller canister containing around .54 ounces (15 grams) that can easily be concealed in a purse, hung from a keyring, or placed in a pocket. It is primarily intended for close encounters of less than 10 feet. Bear spray canisters are much larger carrying at least 7.9 ounces (225 grams) of net weight. This usually gives a spray duration of approximately 7-8 seconds. This spray is effective up to 25 feet optimally.
- Pepper spray has an irritation effect on eyes, mucous membranes, and skin. Its inflammatory effects on the eyes cause them, and surrounding tissues, to burn and swell and reflexively or involuntary close causing a temporary blindness. The resulting irritation and pain produces significant tearing of the eyes further compounding the ability to see or see clearly. There is also a profound negative effect on the linings of the throat and lungs which causes the person to cough intensely and experience breathing difficulties. It is the combined effect on these body organs and tissues that incapacitates the person for a period of time, giving an advantage to the potential victim of attack to flee the area and seek police protection if available.
- The major effects of self-defense pepper spray can last up to 20 minutes, and residual lesser effects can last as long as 24 hours, with the effects gradually declining overtime.
- Investigation into the potential harmful effects of pepper spray has shown that people with respiratory conditions, such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), are at greater risk for potentially more harmful effects, and possibly death. This is especially manifest if the spray is a direct hit to the face.
- There is not a really good treatment if you have been sprayed. Capsaicin is not water soluble, and therefore flooding the eyes with large is not as effective as it is with other irritants. However, the mechanical action of blinking is recommended to help flush the irritant from the eyes. Many ambulance crews and even hospital emergency rooms are known to use baby shampoo to remove the spray from patient’s eyes.
- Because the spray can cause breathing difficulties as well as possibly cause the person to start hyperventilating in response, it is recommended that a person having been sprayed concentrate on breathing deeply and regularly as a best intervention strategy against hyperventilating.
- Federal law prohibits carrying or shipping pepper spray on a commercial airliner or to even possess it beyond the security stations at airports.
- While some states regulate the maximum allowed strength of pepper spray and who can purchase it, all 50 statues in the union allow it to be legally purchased and used by adults.
Every person has the right to protect themselves against an attacker seeking to do harm to them. Self-defense pepper spray is an effective deterrent and is a recommended weapon for those seeking protection, but do not want to carry a firearm. If you feel having and using pepper spray is a good choice for your particular circumstances, then search the available information to select a proven product for protection.
You may also be interested in our other article titled, “How to Properly Carry and Use Bear Spray” or “What to do if you Get Bear Spray on Your Skin or in your Eyes?“