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How Bad Is Getting Pepper Sprayed, Really?


Depends on the spice in the sauce.

Pepper spray has become the scourge of Occupiers across the country, and based on some of the YouTube videos posted, one might think it were some kind of napalm mist.

Occupiers have writhed and screamed in pain on several occasions, most recently at the UC-Davis campus, and there have been many other deployments of it across the country in recent weeks.

So we at the Blaze are asking the question: How bad is getting pepper sprayed?

Depends on how much spice is in the sauce, so to speak. The chemical structure of the spray-- the amount of capsaicins-- determines where it falls on the pepper burn scale, called the Scoville chart. Yes, pepper spray is not just a clever name. It is more properly called Oleoresin Capsicum, or OC spray, because of the presence of capsaicins.

The science behind all this tells us that pepper spray is a far cry from what you might use to season food.

Think of it this way-- the pepper spray used by police is stronger than what you can buy for self-defense, and even that leaves the hottest peppers on earth far behind. The hottest natural pepper on earth-- the Himalayan Ghost pepper (even sounds scary) or bhut jolokia-- doesn't come close to police OC spray.

Science writer Deborah Blum points out that dosage is the main issue when considering the effects of pepper spray or any other dangerous substance:

 "the dose makes the poison... we’re not talking about cookery but a potent blast of chemistry.  So that if OC spray is the U.S. police response of choice  – and certainly, it’s been used with dismaying enthusiasm during the Occupy protests nationwide- it may be time to demand a more serious look at the risks involved."

The symptoms of exposure are pretty well know. Pepper spray induces a burning sensation in the eyes, throat, and mucous membranes. In addition, inhalation can cause swelling and closure of the throat, making it difficult to breath. This could pose a risk to people with asthma or other respiratory conditions.

With repeated exposures, studies find, there can be permanent damage to the outer layer of the eye's cornea, and a host of other health problems have been raised.

Bottom line: Pepper spray can range from nasty to truly awful, but it definitely beats a baton cracked on the skull, or bullet shot through the knee.

This incident from a protest at Union Square received international outrage and gave major momentum to the Occupy Wall Street when it was uploaded to youtube. Watch it below:

For a full roundup of pepper spray incidents, rubber bullet shootings, and other nasty but non-lethal police actions against the Occupy mobs, the Atlantic has put it all together for you, just click here.

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