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Chemical defense weapons


First, chemical defensive weapons are not meant to "knock down" an attacker. For law enforcement, they allow for control of the subject. For civilians, they create a window of opportunity to get away from an attacker and flee to safety. 
For decades, law enforcement agencies have used CN and CS tear gas for riot control and as a method of controlling unruly suspects. CN is available to civilians.


CN (alpha-chloroacetophenone; manufactured under such trade names as Mace, Curb, and Phaser) is an irritant and tearing agent. CN was discovered by a German chemist in 1869.
In minute quantities, CN has an apple blossom odor. In larger quantities, CN causes a heavy flow of tears and mucous, nausea, and burning and itching of moist, exposed skin.
CN takes from 3 to 10 seconds to take effect and is the weakest of the spray chemicals. It works on both mucous membranes and the skin, producing a sharp burning sensation that lasts for 30 minutes to an hour. If the assailant is numb to pain, due to drugs, alcohol, adrenaline, or a psychotic episode, he or she may not feel the pain. Because of these limitations, CN may not repel an attack and may allow the defender to escape. CN may be highly toxic to some individuals and may take as long as 3 to 4 days to dissipate from an area (car interior, indoors, etc.).


CS (ortho-chlorobenzyl malononitrile) is a white crystalline solid that has been used for many years as an anti-riot agent. It was originally developed in 1928 by B.B. Corson and R.W. Stoughton. It was originally used as a crowd control chemical in the 1950s but was not seriously considered for use by law enforcement until the mid-1960s. I
it is used primarily as an incapacitating agent, both by the military and law enforcement. CS has become a mainstay of riot control and prison population control. CS can be disseminated in grenades, projectiles, aerosols, or as a powder. Burning grenades, projectiles, and the raw powder are commercially manufactured in the United States strictly for law enforcement. CS-based aerosols are available to the consumer.
CS is a lacriminator, a substance that produces profuse tearing. In minute quantities, CS has a peppery odor. At higher concentrations, the eyes will involuntarily close and have a burning sensation with profuse tearing. The nose will run, and moist skin will have a stinging sensation. CS will cause severe coughing with a tightness in the chest and throat. Occasionally, dizziness will be experienced. All the above effects are produced 20 to 60 seconds after exposure and will last from 10 to 30 minutes after the subject is removed from the presence of the gas. CS is not effective against animal attacks.
CS is less potentially lethal than CN, but as with all chemical agents, these chemicals are "inherently dangerous." CS has an exceedingly high level of toxicity and may also cause severe blistering of the skin and permanent blindness.


Historically, Japanese police used a metsubishi, a lacquer or brass box, to blow pepper dust into the eyes of people they sought to apprehend. Today, most law enforcement agencies in the United States have switched from using CN and CS to using OC (oleoresin capsicum), a derivative of oil from the hottest cayenne peppers. OC is an inflammatory agent, not an irritant like the tear gasses. Contact with mucous membranes (eyes, nose, throat, and lungs) will cause immediate temporary blindness and instant inflammation of the breathing tissues causing severe restriction of breathing. 
OC is readily available to the public in the form of pepper sprays and foams. OC is the best deterrent available for attacking dogs and wild animal control. 
Since it is an inflammatory, rather than an irritant, response to OC is involuntary (not dependent on pain response). Therefore, it is effective against those who feel no pain, such as psychotics, drunks, and drug abusers. However, it is important to remember that subjects who are overly aggressive, agitated, intoxicated, or suffering from mental illness may have an altered perception of and response to pain. Consequently, these people may not be affected by the spray, or may even become enraged after being sprayed with OC. OC is not volatile and will not give off fumes like tear gasses; it only affects areas that it touches. This means OC must be dispensed as an aerosol, which allows it to be properly inhaled into the lungs.
OC effects may last from 45 minutes to over an hour. It is organic and will naturally dissipate from an enclosed area after about 25 minutes, with some airing out. Persons exposed to OC spray should decontaminate as soon as possible using fresh running water. If potentially life-threatening symptoms develop, they should seek medical attention immediately. 
More about OC
OC is an oily extract of pepper plants of the genus Capsicum. There are many kinds of peppers, ranging from jalapenos, chiltepin, cayenne, to habaneras, but all have one thing in common: they contain a powerful alkaloid called capsaicin (cap-say-a-sin).
A burning sensation may be felt even with a single drop of tasteless and odorless capsaicin in 100,000 drops of water. Capsaicin may be detected by humans at one part per ten million parts of water! Each year, millions of pounds of capsicum are imported into the United States, primarily from India, Japan, Africa, and Mexico. It is used as a spice in salsa, chili, curries, and hot sauces and as a pharmacological agent in topical anesthetic, analgesic creams, and pepper sprays.
Relative hotness in peppers is measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU), which is the greatest dilution of pepper extract that can be detected by the human tongue. The ratings were subjective because they would vary greatly from panel to panel as tolerance to hot food varies from person to person. Today, SHU is calculated using high-performance liquid chromatography. 
By government guidelines, pure capsaicin is rated at 15,000,000 SHU. The pepper scale ranges from a zero SHU for a bell pepper to around 5,000 SHU for a jalapeno pepper to an enormous 200,000 to 300,000 SHU for habaneros pepper. The oleoresin capsicum used in most pepper sprays is rated about 2,000,000 SHU. However, the SHU is meaningless in the pepper spray business. The only true way to assess the hotness of any given formula is to have it chemically analyzed to assess the actual percentage of capsaicin. Since pure capsaicin is 15 million SHU, for a product to have 3 million SHU the product would have to be at least 20% capsaicin. 
Most sprays use food-grade capsaicin, which is quite cheap while some use pharmaceutical-grade pure capsaicin, which is more expensive but makes a much cleaner and more effective product. Food grade OC is low in capsaicin content and "heat," and is very heavy and oily, making it difficult to dissolve and aerosolize.
A problem with a poorly formulated food-grade capsaicin spray is that the capsaicin tends to separate from the propellant. Being lighter than the propellant, the capsaicin floats to the top. Since spray cans are designed with dip tubes, the contents at the bottom of the can are expelled first when you spray. With a poor formula, this means you first discharge mostly propellant and when you finally do get to the pepper, rather than spraying as a fine aerosol, you get "beads" of pepper which are considerably less effective. Pharmaceutical grade pure extracted capsaicin is more expensive, but you get a "hotter" product without aerosol problems.
Only a couple of companies manufacture most of the pepper spray on the market. Other companies simply purchase the filled canisters and put their label on them for resale. Only a few companies manufacture their OC formula.
Personal defense sprays may also contain toxic substances. CS and CN based sprays are toxic in themselves and may cause physical injury which can lead to liabilities. Depending on the brand, an OC spray may contain water, alcohol, or organic solvents as liquid carriers; and nitrogen, carbon dioxide, or halogenated hydrocarbons (such as Freon, tetrachloroethylene, and methylene chloride) as propellants to discharge the canister contents. Inhalation of high doses of some of these chemicals can produce adverse cardiac, respiratory, and neurological effects, including arrhythmias and sudden death. Methylene chloride, a known carcinogen, is the active solvent found in older paint strippers; it has been banned by the California EPA. Sprays that contain methylene chloride may cause permanent eye damage leading to liabilities.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission regulates the labeling of OC spray as a hazardous substance under the Federal Hazardous Substance Act. A prominent and conspicuous warning stating the principal hazard, precautionary measures to take when using the product, and first aid measures to be used should appear on the spray. 

Effects of OC

The capsaicinoid content of extracts used in pepper sprays varies widely among manufacturers, from 1.2% to 12.6%. Since the concentration of extract used in pepper sprays also varies (5-15%), the potential effects associated with capsaicinoid exposure may vary by as much as 30-fold among different brands of OC sprays.
Exposure to OC spray may occur through skin or eye contact, or inhalation. Once inhaled, it can be expectorated or ingested. With acute exposure, there is a rapid onset of symptoms including burning, nausea, fear, and disorientation.

Skin Exposure

Exposure of skin to OC spray causes tingling, intense burning pain, swelling, redness, and occasionally, blistering. Multiple exposures of the skin or mucous membranes for seconds or minutes exaggerate the response. Capsaicin augments allergic sensitization and worsens allergic dermatitis. Exposure may diminish sensitivity to heat or chemical-induced pain, thus increasing the risk and severity of skin burns. Capsaicin powerfully stimulates heat receptors, causing reflex sweating and activates hypothalamus-mediated cooling; this dual effect increases the risk of hypothermia if victims are decontaminated with cold water on cold days.

Respiratory Exposure

Respiratory responses to OC spray include burning of the throat, wheezing, dry cough, shortness of breath, gagging, gasping, inability to breathe or speak, and, rarely, cyanosis, apnea, and respiratory arrest.

The nasal application of capsaicin causes sneezing, irritation, and reflex mucus secretion. Its inhalation may cause acute hypertension (like ammonia inhalation), which in turn may cause a headache and increase the risk of stroke or heart attack.

Eye Exposure

Common ocular symptoms associated with OC spray exposure include redness, swelling, severe burning pain, stinging, inflammation, an involuntary or reflex closing of the eyelids. Ocular exposure to OC should be treated by flushing for at least 15 minutes with fresh water.

Why carry OC

  • Pepper spray is a non-lethal weapon.
  • Since it is non-lethal, you will be less likely to wait too long before using it, which lessens the chance of the weapon being taken away and used against you.
  • If it is taken from you and used against you, since it is nonlethal, it will not in itself cause you permanent harm.
  • Its effects last from 30 to 45 minutes giving you ample time to get away from or secure the attacker.
  • The spray has a very wide "shotgun" pattern so extensive training and practice are not necessary to be accurate and effective with its use.
  • It can be kept in a readily accessible place. If your children happen to get their hands on it and accidentally discharge it, the worst that may happen is a period of discomfort.
Pepper sprays have been proven to be more effective than handguns against aggressive animals. Also, most animal confrontations occur within the boundaries of state or national parks where firearms are forbidden

Types of OC

OC that is discharged in a stream (like a squirt gun) is the least effective because the defender must be able to aim the stream exactly into the assailant's eyes, nose, or mouth. Also, assailants may more easily protect themselves by turning their heads or covering their faces with their arms. While under an attack and the effect of an adrenaline rush, most people's aim is not sufficient to properly deploy the stream of OC at an attacker. 

A more effective form of OC dispersal is from a 4 oz. canister using a fogger type nozzle. This fog will discharge to about 15 ft., enveloping an attacker's face and head, which almost ensures that the atomized droplets of OC will get into the attacker's eyes, on the skin of the face, and be inhaled into the nose and lungs where it will be most effective. Even if the assailant is covering his or her face or trying to hold his or her breath, the defender, by using short bursts, will still get the desired repellent effect. Fogger canisters are the most common type carried by law enforcement.

For civilian use, the conical mist nozzle may be the best to use. Conical mist nozzle canisters come in smaller sizes from 1/2 oz. up to 4 oz. and are a good compromise between the fogger and the stream. The conical mist emits its fog in a much smaller diameter than the fogger, but with the same pressure. Good out to 12 ft., it uses less OC per spray, so you get more sprays per canister making it more economical for the ordinary person.

Pepper spray guns

There are many types of pepper spray guns on the market. A problem with most of them is that they look like firearms (some look exactly like a firearm). While this may make assailants think it is a firearm and cause them to crease the attack and leave, it may also cause them to take even more drastic measures against you. It is even possible that they could kill you and claim self-defense since they thought you had a firearm and were going to shoot them.

Kimber Pepper Blaster

One pepper spray product that does not resemble a firearm is the Kimber Pepper Blaster, about $40 on Amazon.

With an ability to blast out pepper spray up to 13 feet in a 1/10th of a second, this is the pepper spray gun to get when you want to eliminate the chances of blowback, the loss of pressure, or contaminating anyone else rather than the target. The blaster helps you to incapacitate an assailant wearing eyeglasses and ski masks since the OC mixture blasts out at 90 mph.

The blaster is easy to use since it only requires you to point and shoot. The safety is a part of the mechanism that fires the weapon, so you do not need to manually disengage it.


  • It fires fast.
  • It has good esthetics.
  • It is compact and handy.
  • It has an ergonomic grip.
  • The spray contains a brightly colored marking dye.
  • It is not fired by pressured air or gas; the spray is blasted out by chemical charge that ignites so it never loses pressure.
  • It has a 4-year shelf life.


  • It provides only two shots, after using both shots you dispose of the blaster.
  • The spray’s effect is not long-lasting.

Questions about OC

  • Is OC legal to carry? Pepper spray is legal in most states, although some states limit its use to law enforcement only. Most states place little or no restrictions on its purchase. It is illegal to use pepper spray to commit a crime. Only use pepper spray for personal protection when you feel your life is in danger.
  • Where may I carry OC? If it is otherwise legal in your state, it may be carried everywhere, except airports. It is prohibited at all airports so do not carry it there or pack it in checked or carry-on baggage.
  • What is my legal liability with OC? Using any personal defense weapon in an offensive (rather than defensive) manner constitutes a criminal act and may (and probably will) be prosecuted under the law. However, if you perceive a threat and use the spray in a strictly defensive manner, you should have no legal liability if your state had no restrictions on the sale and use of pepper sprays. Always inquire about any restrictions or requirements for pepper spray use in your state.
  • How often should I replace my OC canister? There is no "expiration" date on pepper spray itself since capsaicin does not deteriorate; however, the propellant may deteriorate. Manufacturers recommend test-firing a canister one-half a second (0.5 seconds) every 3 months. This would mean you may need to purchase a new canister every couple of years. Canisters are designed using two soft rubber gaskets. Over time, some pressure may leak past these gaskets rendering the spray less effective. Since effectiveness is of utmost importance, it is recommended that canisters be replaced every three years.
  • Are the pocket or key ring sprays effective? Given the size of the container and the size and type of nozzle, it is almost impossible to have effective distance, pattern, or aerosolization. These types of sprays may also give the holder a false sense of security since the holder is relying on an ineffective means of defense.
  • What about ultraviolet (UV) dye in OC spray? Some manufacturers claim to have a UV dye in their spray that will glow under a UV light making it easier for police to identify the attacker. UV dyes are a marketing gimmick. Most products claiming to have a UV dye have no UV dye at all. Pepper sprays contain carotenoids, the red pigment in red pepper extract. This is what certain companies are referring to as their "dye." The presence of UV dye may render a pepper spray less stable thereby shortening its shelf life.

Get proper OC training

Before using a pepper spray, get proper training on its use. Even though it is not a lethal weapon, it is still a weapon. There are techniques to learn that will increase the success of using a chemical defensive spray to repel an attack. 

During my years of police training and experience, I have personally seen and felt the effects of CN, CS, and OC. All of them hurt!


  • Smith, C. G. and Stopford, W. Health Hazards of Pepper Spray.
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