pepper spray Pepper spray and cocaine, a little known lethal combination

Pepper spray compared to natural chili pepper

Yesterday it emerged that a pregnant woman who had been sprayed with pepper spray at a demonstration has lost her baby. This is a shocking claim but it isn’t surprising when you consider the toxicity of pepper spray and the fact that it is banned for use in warfare under Article I.5 of the Chemical Weapons Convention (signed by the US, the UK and almost every other country on the planet).Police “pepper spray” is six hundred and sixty two times more powerful than jalapeño pepper and many hundreds of times stronger than the cans available to ordinary Americans.

There is no debate that being sprayed with pepper spray is extremely dangerous but few know that it is known to cause potentially lethal respiratory failure, especially for asthma sufferers. Most worryingly, the least informed appear to be the US police officers who are prepared to nonchalantly spray it directly in to the faces of peaceful protesters.

Even more worrying is the complete lack of interest by the authorities in the lethal impact that pepper spray has on individuals who have taken stimulants such as cocaine and amphetamines. The active ingredient in pepper spray, capsaicin potentates the toxicity of cocaine astronomically, making cocaine and pepper spray a lethal combination. In the two years following California’s 1992  adoption of capsaicin based pepper spray nineteen of the twenty-six deaths caused by pepper spay also involved the use of stimulants like cocaine (9 involved methamphetamine, 6 cocaine, 3 methamphetamine plus cocaine, and 1 pseudoephedrine), 79% of those deaths occured within one hour (Mendelson et al, 2009). This research is supported by animal research in which capsaicin pushed mortality levels through the roof in rats administered with cocaine (Mendelson et al, 2009).

“The lethal effects of capsaicin administered with cocaine (both compounds administered intraperitoneally) were assessed in 14 groups of 20–40 male mice. capsaicin at 10 mg/kg increased the lethality of cocaine in mice dosed at 60 mg/kg from 13% to 53% (P < 0.01) and for cocaine at 75 mg/kg from 53% to 90% (P < 0.001).” (Mendelson et al, 2009)

pepper spray cop Pepper spray and cocaine, a little known lethal combination

Casual pepper spraying

Footnote: If you think this is a situation that is unlikely to affect you because you aren’t the sort of person to confront a police officer you should take a look at the “crowd management” pepper spray now being developed by a subsidary of BAE and the implementation of pepper spray for crowd management already occurring across the on US a grand scale.

fire extinguisher pepper spray Pepper spray and cocaine, a little known lethal combination

If this ever gets deployed at a rave we'll have a massacre on our hands.


Mendelson, J., Tolliver, B., Delucchi, K., Baggott, M., Flower, K., Harris, C., Galloway, G., & Berger, P. (2009). Capsaicin, an active ingredient in pepper sprays, increases the lethality of cocaine Forensic Toxicology, 28 (1), 33-37 DOI: 10.1007/s11419-009-0079-9

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  • Fantomy

    In the UK, Pseudoephedrin hydrochloride is used for treatment of blocked nose (e.g. Sinusitis). The 60mg dose sold over the counter (without prescription) is effective for 10-12 hours. Can somebody get killed if sprayed by police with pepper spray after taking the pill? Thanks.

    • Neurobonkers

      That is a very good point. I can’t find any research on this issue other than the Mendelson paper. The best way to find out I’d imagine would be to look at toxicology reports on deaths induced by pepper spray. I’ve not done this type of research before but I’ll give it a shot!

      From the evidence here though I certainly wouldn’t risk taking Pseudoephedrin myself before attending a protest.

  • Pingback: Pepper Spray + Cocaine = Death | United Academics

  • Pingback: Researching the link between capsaicin (pepper spray) deaths and stimulants | Help Me Investigate Health

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  • Derf

    In relation to the “casual pepper spraying”, I followed this  story at the time and shared much of the same opinion as yourself.

    However I later saw this video:

    And have changed my mind somewhat. What’s your opinion on this?

    • Neurobonkers

      My personal view is very effectively described by this TED talk on the matter:

    • Ann Burg

      This could have also been avoided if the police respected their right to protest… Just as the students were warning them and the video states it is threatening, the police were warning them and put some of them in hand cuffs which is also threatening. They have a right to protest and they also have the right to say what they want to. There was nothing threatening about the protesters from what I saw. They were holding hands in a circle… The police could have walked right through like they cuffed those kids and put them on the ground. The cops touched them first. It was a peaceful assembly until the cops came and disrupted that and no one touched a cop. There was no “Riot” to control, just a bunch of kids protesting and Occupying. If they are wrong for what they protest, then why is the government sending their minions to shut them up? I saw a girl in Oakland get shot in the face with a rubber bullet. I saw a pregnant girl lose her baby from being shot in the stomach. Where was this pepper spray then? Why don’t you show how they use swat and unreasonable force against protesters displaying their 1st amendment right and the right to protest? Why don’t you also show how they plant police in protests to cause a threat to cops so the protesters look bad. You have to really have been around in more than 1 Occupy camp to even see and hear all of the opinions and really grasp the meaning for their protest. To see and hear some of the horror stories… You would be amazed.

  • Pikelet89

    capsaicin interacts with the trpv1 receptors in dopaminergic neurons blocking reuptake of dopamine (which is a downstream signal of cocaine) causing a dopamine overdose that leads to death

  • asthmatic

    This casual use of pepper spray is alarming. I’ve heard it used on a senior citizen in their own yard who called the police to report a prowler. Since the prowler was no longer there the police harassed the old woman. I’m asthmatic, very asthmatic. Who is to say that I would look at a cop wrong and the idiot on a power trip decide to spray me. I would die. No doubt about it. I can’t be around strong perfume or cleaning chemical imagine what pepper spray would do. Asthmatic should ban together to stop the use of this spray.

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