December 3, 2020

Pepper Spray: what it is, how to use it, and you can’t use it here

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The use of pepper spray as a deterrent to the crime wave here in Cayman has been a big talking point with the public, the government and police. So what is pepper spray?

Pepper spray, also known as OC spray, OC gas and capsicum spray is non-toxic, non-inflammable,  self-defense equipment. The active ingredient, Oleoresin Capsicum (OC), is the same pepper content that we get from hot cayenne peppers used for cooking. OC is oil extracted from the tissue of the cayenne pepper, which is located just below the stem. Extraction of oleoresin capsicum from peppers involves finely ground capsicum, from which capsaicin is extracted in an organic solvent such as ethanol. The solvent is then evaporated, and the remaining waxlike resin is the oleoresin capsicum. An emulsifier such as propylene glycol is used to suspend the OC in water, and pressurised to make it aerosol in pepper spray. The HLPC (high performance liquid chromatography) method is used to measure the amount of capsaicin and major capsaicinoids within
pepper sprays.

The word “Mace”, a registered trademark of Mace Security International, is often used synonymously with pepper spray or tear gas;  Mace was one of the original manufacturers of nonlethal security sprays in the USA. However, not all of their products can be considered pepper spray. Another version of pepper spray used in the UK is PAVA spray made from synthetic analogue of capsaicin, pelargonic acid vanillylamide (desmethyldihydrocapsaicin).

In Russia they use a synthetic counterpart of pepper spray – pelargonic acid morpholide.

The immediate effects of pepper spray are as follows:

• Temporary blindness

• Tearing and burning sensation in
the eyes.

• Shortness of breath

• Choking and coughing

• Feeling of light-headedness

• Confusion and disorientation

• Runny nose

Pepper spray was not designed to be fatal and there are no questionable contents that are to be found in pepper spray that may show evidences of becoming fatal. However, there are cases of deaths recorded that are associated with pepper sprays. This is primarily due to the allergic reaction, termed as anaphylaxis. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include fainting, shock and swelling. Asthmatics must also keep watch since they are likely to become infected with contact to serious dose of pepper sprays.

No training is necessary although it is advisable to read the instructions and follow them carefully.

The standard pepper spray strength is 15% active ingredients and 2 million HSU or Scoville Heat Units. The rating for HSU is much more essential than that of the rate for the active ingredient.

Pepper spray is thought to be the best non-lethal self-defense weapon as it has produced more desirable results compared with other tear gasses.

It is generally safe to use since it does not have long lasting effects and there is no known dosage that rise to the level of being fatal. The sprayed person will have to suffer around 20-30 minutes or more of excruciating eye pain and temporary blindness along with a burning sensation of the skin lasting between 45-60 minutes. It can also cause upper body spasms forcing a person to bend forward with uncontrollable coughing making it difficult to breathe or speak for between 3 to 15 minutes.

If you have been sprayed the affected area must be immediately rinsed with cold water and baby shampoo. The clothes must be washed separately to avoid contact with other items.

Is it the best solution? In actuality, it is not but this is rather dependent on the case. If for example your assailant is loaded with lethal weapons, he may have already injured you even before you successfully take out your pepper spray. In this case, it is best to avoid using it or you may end up being sprayed with your own pepper spray. If you are attacked outdoors on a windy day, the spray may blow back into your own face when you aim for your attacker. Also, if your attacker sees the stream of spray coming, he may be able to avoid it.The wisest thing to do is to refrain from unnecessary risks as much as possible.

Children must be kept away from pepper spray since they are fond of playing with novelty items. Many will attempt spraying the item to the air or at any object, including live things and most end up spraying themselves.

Direct close-range spray can cause more serious eye irritation by attacking the cornea with a concentrated stream of liquid (the so-called “hydraulic needle” effect). Recently, a police officer in the USA was shown using pepper spray at a school on students who were sitting down and directing it straight into their eyes. It caused widespread condemnation.

At the present time pepper spray is NOT legal for use by the public nor security guards in the Cayman Islands and it is an offense to import it without a license. It is unlikely at this present time the law here will change. It is legal in the USA and is available in many different containers-small canisters can be attached to key rings.

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