Pepper spray, also known as OC spray (from "Oleoresin Capsaicin”, sometimes spelled Oleoresin Capsaicin) is a non-lethal chemical compound that irritates the eyes to cause tears, pain and sometimes even temporary blindness.
- Figure 1 – Example of Pepper Spray Usage
The use of chemical compounds as weapons dates back thousands of years. In 428 BC, Spartans burned wood saturated with pitch and sulfur to create toxic fumes. Dating back to ancient China, the Chinese put ground cayenne chili pepper in rice paper and flung it in the face of their opponents. Additionally, during Japan’s Tukagawa Empire, police used the “Mitsubishi”, a box used to blow pepper into the eyes of opponents. 1
In 1721, Charles XII used smoke to screen his river crossing. And in World War I chemical agents were used extensively to kill and harass.
In 1864, Germans first discovered and used Chloroacetophenone (commonly known as CN tear gas), a non-lethal tearing agent that could incapacitate humans for short periods of time with no lasting effects.
In 1928, a different type of tear gas (orthochlorobenzalmalononitrile) was developed by B.B. Corson and R.W. Stoughton, the two scientists from whom it takes its nickname "CS."
A different type of compound, Oleoresin Capsicum, was developed at the University of Georgia by Professor James H. Jenkins and Dr. Frank Hayes, D.V.M., in 1960. That formula was first commercially sold in 1963 under the brand name Halt Animal Repellant.
Like tear gas, Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) is non-lethal and induces temporary incapacitation with no known long-term effects. In 1989, the Firearms Training Unit (FTU) of the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, completed three years of intensive research on OC, following which the FBI authorized the use of OC for its special agents and SWAT teams. 2 The FBI was attracted to OC Pepper spray results to control unruly subjects without having to resort to a physical confrontation or to deadly force.
In addition, OC spray has proven effective against domestic and wild animals without endangering the animals or the environment. OC, in proper dispensing systems, has been successfully used to stop grizzly bear attacks in Alaska and pit bull dog attacks in California and Texas. The US Postal Service starting issuing pepper spray to its letter carriers in the 1980’s as a dog repellent and still uses it today.
The use of pepper spray in law enforcement circles started to increase in the early 1990’s when more than 3,000 police forces in the United States, driven by the FBI endorsement of pepper spray as a safe crowd deterrent, started to use it as a standard weapon in their arsenal.
While the proliferation of pepper spray usage in law enforcement circles continued to increase throughout the 1990’s, it was only in the late 1990’s that the use of pepper spray significantly increased amongst civilians. Attracted to its non-lethal nature, potency and relatively inexpensive cost, civilians of all walks of life began to buy pepper spray for self-defense.
As pepper spray manufacturers became aware of this consumer demand, they began to develop consumer focused models which emphasized personal safety and accessibility. Hence, one of the most critical catalysts to the increased pepper spray usage amongst civilians was the development of the keychain pepper spray by several manufacturers. Compact, easily accessible and inexpensive, these were adopted in rapid fashion. While traditional pepper spray canisters (2, 3 and 4 ounce) are still popular amongst civilians, pepper spray keychains are now the model of choice for consumers as they combine the same potent OC pepper spray formula into a more compact delivery system. Pepper Spray Hub has a bit more information on which sprays work best for different situations.
- Figure 2 – Example of Traditional Law Enforcement Pepper Spray Canister
- Figure 3 – Examples of Civilian Keychain Pepper Spray models
1 Association for Defense Spray Manufacturers