By Jim Stouffer – Instructor

First……………A Technical Word About Tear Gas (CS AND CN):

Tear gas, both CS and CN are synthesized chemicals that are known as “lacrimator” .  A lacrimator is a substance that produces profuse tearing. Lacrimators, such as tear gas, are not effective against animals.  Tear gas can also cause severe blistering of the skin and permanent blindness.  In short, tear gas has a very high level of toxicity whereas pepper spray is totally non-toxic.  There is considerable more risk of liability with tear gas than with pepper spray.


Pepper Spray is a chemical compound commonly called OC which stands for oleoresin capsicum.  OC is a derivative of Hot Cayenne peppers.  Unlike tear gas which is an irritant, OC is an inflammatory agent.

Upon contact with mucous membranes (e.g., eyes, nose, throat, lungs) pepper spray will cause an instant dilation of the capillaries of the eyes, resulting in temporary blindness and instant inflammation of the breathing tissues, cutting off all but minimal breathing to sustain life support.  While Capsaicin causes a deep burning sensation on the skin, the thing that really makes it an effective defense weapon is the way it effects the mucous membranes, primarily eyes, nose and lungs.  Capsaicin immediately causes them to swell.  The result is a nearly total (but temporary) loss of sight and a severe restriction of breathing.  The response to this reaction is involuntary (not dependent on pain response), which makes pepper spray a very effective weapon against drug impaired assailants or animals that may not respond to pain.

Are all OC sprays the same?  Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) sprays have been on the market for several years.  When there were only one or two products to choose from, it was not too difficult to make a decision as to which brand to carry.  Over the past few years, the number of OC sprays products has proliferated, making the decision as to which is better difficult.  Most people opted for the one with the higher percentage of oleoresin capsicum in its formula, assuming that more is better and that the spray would be more effective if it contained a higher concentration of OC.  Not Necessarily.  Don’t be fooled by percentage OC claims.  The percentage of oleoresin capsicum in the product, which generally varies from 1% to 10%, really has very little to do with how effective the product will be when used in an actual life-threatening situation. Let’s talk about each of these criteria.

Heat Unit Rating of OC.  The word “capsicum” is horticultural term which refers to the genus that chili pepper are classified.  There are all types of chili pepper ranging from jalapenos, chiltepins, cayenne to habaneros.  They all have one thing in common.  They all contain an unusually powerful compound found in no other plant, an alkaloid called capsaicin (cap-say-a-sin).  Just a single drop of tasteless and odorless capsaicin in 100,000 drops of water and the heat can be very noticeable.  In fact, capsicum can be detected by humans at one part per million.

In 1912, pharmacologist Wilbur Scoville developed a standard for measuring the power of capsaicun .  Called the Scovill Organaleptic Test, currently called Scoville Heat Unit (SHU), it was needed to calculate the temperature of peppers used in many pharmaceutical products of the time (such as “Heat” rub which was used for relief of sore muscles, arthritis pain and muscular sprains).  Scoville measured ground peppers into a mixture and gave it a grade.  The subjective measurements of taster has since been replaced with high technology, a computerized method called high-performance liquid chromatography.  The pepper scale ranges from zero SHU’s for standard – issue bell peppers to 5,000 or so for jalapenos to a whopping 200,000- 300,000 for habaneros. Pure capsaicin is 15 million SHU.

The oleoresin capsicum used in most pepper sprays is derived from the very hottest habanero peppers and further processed until the rating is two million (highest to date in the industry).  Beware Beware!  Next time you see product claims of high percentages of capsicum, be sure to check if the pepper used in the product are the hottest they can be and if the SHU rating is high enough to be effective.  A product advertising 10% OC is not necessarily an effect product. 10 % of what? That is the question.  Find out the heat unit rating, what type of peppers are used the process used to produce a high heat rating.  Without the proper answer to these questions you may be buying a product which is less effective that others and possibly ineffective when the most demanding situation may arise.

OC is often rated by a percentage content of the overall chemical such as 5% or 10%.  That’s important, but what is even more important is the Scoville heat rating.  You could have a 25% OC base in the chemical but if the heat rating is not high enough, the chemical is simply not strong enough.  You need to look for 1.5 to 5 million Scoville heat unit rating.

Pepper spray effects wear off in 30 to 45 minutes giving you ample time to get away and allows time for police to apprehend the attacker.

The way pepper spray is designed to work makes it imperative that it be highly aerosolized.  If it is not, it will not be properly inhaled into the lungs.  Recent tests and reports have shown that Oleoresin Capiscum spray successfully incapacitates about 90% of those sprayed.

In order for OC to be effective, it has to be air-born in fine particle size.  The only way this can be accomplished is with a propellant system that breaks down the oleoresin capsicum into micron size as it is being released.  Only a very few sprays products have a special blend of liquefied propellants which break down the OC into the smallest possible particulate size.  It is this type of propellant that enables the heat generating characteristics of the OC to work causing immediate mucous membrane inflammation on contact.