Is Pepper Spray Dangerous for your Health?

By  ,  Onlymyhealth editorial team
Nov 29, 2011

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Is pepper spray dangerous for your health

Pepper spray is largely used as a torturing device against the protesters. Some consider it to be a useful method to deal with such situations while others are worried about danger they can pose to health. Some pepper spray has short term impact on health while the others are extremely dangerous for your health. The American Civil Liberties Union suggests that the use of pepper spray is dangerous and cruel and therefore must not be use against the protesters.

Ingredients in Pepper Spray

Ingredients of pepper spray that can pose harmful effect on health include:

  • Oleoresin Capsicum: extracted oil from capsicum (a kind of pepper used in spices and salsa. However, depending upon the brands the strength of spray too varies from an individual to another. Capsaicin is also known to trigger distress to lung as well as airways.
  • As a carrier of oleoresin capsicum, pepper spray either contains alcohol, water or any other organic solvent.
  • Carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and propellants such as halogenated hydrocarbons are also present in pepper spray. Such chemicals can pose serious threat to cardiac, respiratory and neurological system of body, especially when inhaled in high dose.

And here's a quick rundown of what OC can do to various parts of your body (information mostly taken from this University of North Carolina and Duke University research paper):



Exposure to pepper spray with the above mentioned ingredients is likely to cause burning sensation in the skin. Blistering of skin, intense pain and allergic dermatitis are some of the consequences of pepper spray. In extreme cases person can even develop hypothermia.


  • The core component of pepper spray .i.e. oleoresin capsicum, can lead to inflammation and burning pain in eyes.
  • If eyes come in contact with large amount of spray then the person can develop temporarily blindness.
  • Corneal abrasions from foreign material or from contact lenses to the bearer.
  • Furthermore, it also leads to sustained loss of blink reflex thus leading to long term damage to the eyes.


Respiratory System

  • Burning throat.
  • Difficulty in breathing, wheezing and gagging.
  • In severe cases it causes laryngospasm (inability to speak and breathe).
  • Exposure of oleoresin capsicum to people who have health ailment such as asthma can lead sudden death.

So far, there seems to have no real effort that can help to quantify the risk pose by pepper spray. However, it is important to weight it’s danger against benefits, with good training and tactics the risks can be significantly reduced.


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