Pepper Spray

Oleoresin Capsaicin (Pepper Spray, OC) is an extract of hot peppers consisting of capsaicin and four derivatives.16 When sprayed in an individual's face it acts within seconds on the membranes of the eyes to cause stinging, tearing and blepharospasm with involuntary closure of the eyes. Capsaicin also affects the respiratory membranes, causing coughing, broncho-constriction, mucous secretion, and shortness of breath, as well as some brief laryngeal paralysis with resultant inability to speak. The effects disappear in 20-30 minutes. The substances in Pepper Spray produce depletion of neurotrans-mitter substances of the sensory nerves with resultant activation of mast cells and release of histamine. This causes the broncho-constriction and mucous formation.

OC spray canisters consist of a carrier for the capsaicin, a propellant, and an aerosol valve nozzle. The carrier is either water or alcohol. The concentration of the capsaicin varies from 1% in canisters sold to the public, to 5 to 10% for police.

Pepper spray is widely used throughout the U.S. and also worldwide. A number of deaths have occurred in individuals after being sprayed. Investigation of these deaths has failed to reveal any evidence that the pepper spray played any role in the deaths. Virtually all of the individuals were in the throes of excited delirium at the time of spraying. Toxicologic analysis virtually always revealed the presence of cocaine or methamphetamine. Other individuals gave a history of a psychotic disease. The authors have had a number of cases in which individuals in excited delirium have been sprayed repeatedly with absolutely no effect. This included individuals whose excited delirium was caused by cocaine, as well as other individuals experiencing an acute psychotic episode.

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