Derived from chili peppers, oleoresin capsicum is the active ingredient in pepper spray and in some topical pain relievers. Oleoresin capsicum spray is generally considered safe, but questions have been raised about its use for law enforcement purposes.
Law Enforcement Use
Zarc International introduced oleoresin capsicum spray as a less-than-lethal alternative to force for subduing individuals and animals in the early 1980s. The spray produces an intense burning sensation in the eyes, mouth and skin and also inflames the eyes and throat.
Capsicum contains the natural pain reliever capsaicin. Both capsicum and its extract serve as the active ingredient in several nonprescription arthritis and muscle ache creams and ointments.
Concentrated in sprays, oleoresin capsicum produces an intense burning sensation that wears off within 15 to 20 minutes. In topical preparations, capsicum and its extracts block the production of substance P, a neurotransmitter that conveys pain signals from the site of an injury to the brain.
A 1993 International Association of Chiefs of Police report on the use of oleoresin capsicum spray by law enforcement officers cited "no long-term health risks associated with the use of" the spray. However, C. Gregory Smith and Woodhall Stopford noted in a September/October 1999 "North Carolina Medical Journal" article that the heat and swelling produced by oleoresin capsicum could cause people sprayed with it to suffer problems such as skin burns and respiratory arrest.
Brand Name Products
Branded oleoresin capsicum sprays include Mace and Kimber. Among pain relievers, Cramer Atomic Balm contains oleoresin capsicum, and Zostrix contains capsaicin.
About the Author
Ed Lamb is a freelance writer and editor in Virginia Beach, Va. He has written widely in the fields of health policy, pharmacy practice and pharmaceuticals. He has also developed expertise in the areas of employment law, human resources and product packaging and industrial food production.