What is Pepper Spray, and is It Dangerous?

April 28, 2022 by
What is Pepper Spray, and is It Dangerous?
Zarc International, Inc., Alex Froelich

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a steady increase in violent crimes across the country. While it isn't anywhere near the levels seen in the 1980s and 1990s, it doesn't hurt to be prepared.

Pepper spray is used by law enforcement and civilians interested in personal safety. When pepper spray comes in contact with another person's eyes, it causes burning, pain and tears. It is an effective defensive device to ward off intruders and ensure your safety.

However, the use of pepper spray continues to spark debate among many. In this article, we find out what pepper spray is, how dangerous it is, and the effects it can produce when used effectively. 

What Is Pepper Spray?
Pepper spray is a lachrymatory agent or chemical compound that makes the eyes fill with tears, pain, and even temporary blindness. It does not cause permanent eye damage.
You will typically find pepper spray in an aerosol or spray bottle. In some cases, pepper spray is delivered as a gel.

The active ingredient in pepper spray is capsaicin, an oil extract from plants in the genus Capsicum. This is the same compound that makes chilies hot. People often confuse pepper spray with mace, although the two are separate self-defense products with different effects.

For example, spraying mace at someone under the influence of drugs or alcohol is unlikely to conjure any effects. On the other hand, spraying pepper spray at someone is guaranteed to take down an assailant and cause temporary pain to those under the influence.

Pepper spray is used as a defensive device by law enforcement for riot control and crowd control. For regular civilians, pepper spray is used in instances of self-defense. Including defense against both humans and aggressive animals such as dogs and bears.

The range of pepper spray varies by spray pattern. Cone and Foam allows 4-8-feet while Stream can amplify up to 12-20-feet. All allowing the user to spray an assailant from a considerable distance.

Pepper spray is legal in all 50 states. However, some states have strict regulations regarding the types of sprays, strength, and size of pepper spray canisters you can use. Individuals must be at least 18 years old to buy pepper spray or at least 14 years old with parental permission.

Is Pepper Spray Dangerous?
In most cases, pepper spray only causes temporary sides effects to the person on the receiving end. It is commonly referred to as a "non-lethal weapon,” which only incapacitates the aggressor – rendering them useless for about 30-45 minutes. Unlike guns, there is no chance of pepper spray killing somebody.

There is currently no evidence to suggest that pepper spray can cause any long-term damage to vision. People exposed will experience several effects that will temporarily disable an attack from animals or humans.

Side effects of pepper spray include:

Dry cough
Shortness of breath
Burning throat
Chest pain
Gagging and retching
Runny nose
An inability to speak
Eye pain
Difficulty opening eyes
Uncontrollable eye-watering
Pepper spray can also cause redness, swelling, and occasional blistering. The effects of pepper spray last about 30 to 45 minutes and typically don't require hospital treatment. In most cases, your body will repair quickly after exposure to pepper spray. However, repeated exposure can lead to permanent damage to the cornea.

While complications from pepper spray are uncommon, people with asthma may struggle to control their breathing after 45 minutes. These cases may require medical attention.

How to Use Pepper Spray
While many Americans own pepper spray, they do not have experience using it. Like any weapon, lethal or not, it's essential to understand how to appropriately use it against an attacker.

Pepper spray should ideally be carried in a belt holster or coat pocket for quick accessibility. A pepper spray holster with a belt loop or clip is ideal for law enforcement. For personal protection Think about carrying your pepper spray in your jacket pocket, on your keys, or in an outside pocket of your handbag.
The following tips will help you understand how to use pepper spray correctly:

Get comfortable holding the pepper spray
Know the number of shots remaining
Keep a safe and appropriate distance
Keep your arm slightly bent
Make sure it's accessible
Aim for the eyes
After you hit your attacker, move to the side
Practice, practice, practice
The more you familiarize yourself with pepper spray, the calmer you will be when a threat arises. Practice holding, spraying, and aiming your canister outdoors, such as in your backyard. 

Pepper Spray Uses
The ultimate goal of pepper spray is to temporarily stop an attacker and allow the user to escape physical harm. Pepper spray was initially designed to defend against human aggressors and was later found useful against animal predators: including bears, dogs, lions, and wolves.

However, since the early 1990s, pepper spray has been used by law enforcement agencies for crowd control and violent civilian arrest. While law enforcement and civilian pepper spray use differ, they conjure comparable results.

For law enforcement, pepper spray is used for:

Crowd control
Suppress protests and demonstrations
Subdue dangerous arrests
Detain uncooperative or violent subjects
Law enforcement unanimously agrees that pepper spray results in fewer injuries and unnecessary death of civilians. With an uptick in protests and riots across the country, pepper spray is an effective device to disperse violent crowds and provide personal protection against assailants.

As crime rises, civilians are also looking for ways to protect themselves from possible violent attacks. In this case, pepper spray is used for:

Self-defense against human or animal life
Pepper spray is an affordable option for personal protection and a safer alternative to carrying a firearm in public. Women are more likely to own pepper spray regardless of their age or where they live.

It's important to remember that there is a time and place to use pepper spray. Only use pepper spray in a situation that requires self-defense. Using pepper spray irresponsibly can incur criminal or civil liability.

For law enforcement, pepper spray should not be used when the subject submits to arrest, complies with lawful commands, and does not physically threaten officers or bystanders.

Pepper Spray Treatment
While there is no cure for exposure to pepper spray, there are ways to reduce the duration and potency of its effects. Treatment can include:

Immediately leaving the area
Getting fresh air, if possible
Rinse eyes and face with cold water
Avoid touching the affected area
Remove Contacts
Blinking your eyes rapidly to help flush out the spray
Try to stay calm
Whole milk and dish soap may also provide temporary relief from pepper spray as it can help break down the oils and lessen the pain. Pepper spray used in an indoor environment is likely to circulate in the room and provide longer-lasting effects than using it outdoors. Those exposed to pepper spray indoors are encouraged to seek fresh air immediately to help ease symptoms.

Pepper Spray Laws
Pepper spray can be legally purchased, carried, and used in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. However, some states have specific laws and restrictions on size, strength, and age. Rules also apply to those packing pepper spray on domestic flights.

For example, in New York, it is legal to carry pepper spray for self-defense as long as it is pocket-sized and purchased in person.

In Hawaii, pepper spray is legal to buy, carry, and use. However, it can only be possessed by adults at least 18 or older, and the user cannot have any convicted felonies on record.

In Maryland, it is legal to use pepper spray, but you are not permitted to carry it with the intent of harming another person.

You can find more information about the laws in your state here.

Keep in mind that all states have laws against the illegal use of pepper spray. You must only use pepper spray for self-defense.
You cannot use pepper spray against a person or animal who is not considered an immediate threat. Continued pepper spray use beyond reason may be considered a crime.

Protect Yourself with Zarc™ Pepper Spray
Pepper spray is a chemical that can be used legally by law enforcement agencies and civilians in self-defense. Your safety against violent attackers is of paramount importance. With pepper spray, you can ensure your safety and the safety of bystanders.

Zarc International™ is the leading manufacturer of non-lethal pro-grade pepper sprays for your ultimate protection. We supply professional pepper spray products to top law enforcement and federal agencies and civilians in need of personal protection.

Our products are made from robust yet natural substances for safe use. Whether you need protection on the field or in your home, Zarc™ has the right product for you. Browse our pepper spray products or contact us for more information.

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