Pepper Spray-Everything You Need To Know
This is a very extensive and comprehensive guide on everything you need to know about pepper sprays.
What Is Pepper Spray?
According to an article in the journal Medical News Today Pepper Spray “or OC (oleoresin capsicum) spray is a lachrymatory agent (meaning it can cause teary eyes and a runny nose)- a compound that makes the eyes tearful. The active ingredient in pepper spray is also an inflammatory agent that swells up the eyes and mucous membranes of the upper respiratory tract, it causes pain, and often temporary blindness. It is used in self-defense against human and animal attack, as well as for riot and crowd control” (by law enforcement). According to every available source, it is the largest selling nonlethal product for self-defense in the world, largely because it is legal in most countries whereas other self-defense products such as stun guns, for example, are illegal.
History of Pepper Spray
The humble beginnings of pepper spray started hundreds of years ago when ancient Chinese warriors threw bags of hot spices at their enemies.
The online New Yorker.com blog had a brief pepper spray history which basically said the modern-day history of pepper spray started in 1973 and that the FBI “worked to develop weapons-grade material in the 80s”. In 1994, the N.Y.P.D. decided to adopt pepper spray as an anti-personnel weapon. So you can see the history of modern-day pepper spray is relatively new.
What Are The Major Ingredients in Pepper Spray?
The same ingredient that makes major topical arthritis creams so effective-capsaicin-usually at only 0.1% strength is the major ingredient in all pepper sprays. It is a concentration of oleoresin capsicum which is the resin of cayenne pepper-one of the hottest peppers in the world. That oil (or resin) is combined with water, glycol, and a propellant such as nitrogen to make it usable as a spray in a canister. Other ingredients in pepper sprays can include CN teargas and a UV marking dye for assailant identification.
Specs Of The Spray
Most personal pepper sprays are 4 ½ inches tall and about a ½ inch wide with a button or trigger to release the spray. Almost all sprays have at least one safety feature to help prevent accidental discharge. Depending on the size of the canister, pepper sprays will hold anywhere from a ¼ ounce up to a whopping 9.2 ounces for bear spray or a 16-ounce pistol grip fogger for crowd control. In the cable TV show “Dog The Bounty Hunter”, the hero and his crew use this 16-ounce pistol grip spray partially for intimidation purposes. Since most pepper sprays are used by women for their self-defense, a great number of them come with more accessible and easier-to-find keychain attachments which makes them much in those deep purses women carry. Almost all pepper sprays have an expiration date stamped on the bottom of the canister-usually as much as 3 to 4 years. Pepper sprays have ranges that go from 6 feet up to as much as 35 feet for some bear sprays depending on the manufacturer, the propellant used, and the size of the canister.
Can You Fly With Pepper Spray?
TSA Regulations allow one 4-ounce (118ml) container of mace or pepper spray is permitted in checked baggage provided it is equipped with a safety mechanism to prevent accidental discharge.” But sprays containing more than 2% by mass of CS or CN teargas or even prohibited in checked baggage. No pepper spray is allowed onboard a commercial aircraft.
How To Gauge The Potency Of A Pepper Spray
There is considerable controversy over ratings on the potency of pepper spray. It depends on the manufacturer’s view of how they want to market their product. Most pepper spray manufacturers use the percentage of oleoresin capsicum in their sprays as the most effective way to judge the potency of their product. Other manufacturers hype the number of Scoville Heat Units or SHU as the best way to judge the potency of their product.
According to this scale of hot sauce products normal pepper spray has 2 million Scoville heat units. “The Scoville scale is a measure of the ‘hotness’ of chili peppers or anything derived from chili peppers, i.e. hot sauce. The scale is named after Wilbur Scoville who developed the test in 1912.” So one would think that the more Scoville Heat Units in a pepper spray, the more potent the spray. And many manufacturers want you to think that is the case. Wrong!!
Unfortunately, neither of these methods is correct. You almost have to have the inside knowledge to get past the marketing hype of most manufacturers. The most effective way to judge the potency of the spray is the percentage of major capsaicinoids. This information is almost impossible to find on most pepper spray labels quite possibly because the percentage is so low. The low end of Capsaicin and Related Capsaicinoids (CRC) is.18%. On the high end is 2.4% CRC for some potent bear sprays.
Pepper Spray Effects
For any person who has been in the military, part of your basic training is being sprayed with pepper spray. The same is true for anyone who wishes to become a federal, state, or local police officer. Getting to know how pepper spray feels is part of your training. It is not fun!
- The victim’s eyes clamp shut-not just because of the excessive tearing but also the dilation of the capillaries.
- It makes breathing difficult with immediate inflammation and swelling of the throat restricting the airway. Uncontrollable coughing and gasping for air are common.
- Of course, the most famous is the pain caused by contact with exposed skin. Does it ever hurt!
- There is also the sensation of the loss of balance and disorientation. It is nasty stuff!
How Effective Is Pepper Spray?
Before we give you a percentage of how effective pepper sprays are, let’s just say that every law enforcement officer in the country carries pepper spray on his utility belt. It is his first nonlethal option in his arsenal of tools to use in criminal apprehension. That should give you a clue as to how effective it is. The United States Postal Service has issued pepper sprays to all letter carriers for years for defense against dog attacks. Yes, it’s true, letter carriers do get attacked by dogs much more frequently than the average person.
Pepper sprays have been proven to be, on average, 90% effective, but are notoriously ineffective in windy or rainy conditions or if the target is beyond the range of the spray.
Is Pepper Spray Legal?
Pepper spray is legal in all states but some cities and states have restrictions on the amount of oleoresin capsicum that can be in the container and/or concentration of that ingredient. Those states are Wisconsin, New York, and Michigan. Recently Massachusetts eliminated the difficult requirements that were necessary to get pepper spray in that state. We should note that these restrictions are changing.
How Is It Dispersed?
There are four major disbursement methods of pepper spray. They are:
- Stream - the most common where a narrow stream of liquid is expelled which concentrates the solution on the area being sprayed.
- Mist - this allows for a larger area to be covered and makes it easier to hit the target’s face. This is the type of disbursement method used in bear sprays.
- Foggers - similar to mist but covers a wider area.
- Gel - a concentrated stream that holds up better in windy conditions and has a longer range.
What About Disguised Pepper Sprays?
Many manufacturers have developed disguised pepper sprays as a way of leveling the playing field for their female customers. Assailants use surprise as a major tactic in their assaults on women. With the disguised pepper spray, women can turn the tables on their assailants. Who would think an innocent-looking perfume or lipstick dispenser would be a threat? Those are the most common disguised pepper sprays.
What is your experience with pepper spray? Feedback on these posts is appreciated. Please share your experience. We want to hear your thoughts.