Scientific American: Should pepper spray be put on (clinical) trial?
There are reports of the efficacy of capsaicin in crowd control, but little regarding trials of exposures. Perhaps this is because pepper spray is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, as a pesticide and not by the FDA.
The concentration of capsaicin in bear spray is 1-2%; it is 10-30% in ‘personal defense sprays.’
While the police might feel reassured by the study, ‘The effect of oleoresin capsicum ‘pepper’ spray inhalation on respiratory function,’ I was not. This study met the ‘gold standard’ of clinical trials, in that it was a ‘randomized, cross-over controlled trial to assess the effect of Oleoresin capsicum (OC) spray inhalation on respiratory function by itself and combined with restraint.’ However, while the OC exposure showed no ill effect, only 34 volunteers were exposed to only 1 sec of Cap-Stun 5.5% OC spray by inhalation ‘from 5 ft away as they might in the field setting (as recommended by both manufacturer and local police policies).’
By contrast, an ACLU report, ‘Pepper Spray Update: More Fatalities, More Questions’ found, in just two years, 26 deaths after OC spraying, noting that death was more likely if the victim was also restrained. This translated to 1 death per 600 times police used spray. (The cause of death was not firmly linked to the OC). According to the ACLU, ‘an internal memorandum produced by the largest supplier of pepper spray to the California police and civilian markets’ concludes that there may be serious risks with more than a 1 sec spray. A subsequent Department of Justice study examined another 63 deaths after pepper spray during arrests; the spray was felt to be a ‘contributing factor’ in several.
A review in 1996 by the Division of Epidemiology of the NC DHHS and OSHA concluded that exposure to OC spray during police training constituted an unacceptable health risk.