Pepper Spray is Hot Stuff

I was reading a post on Deborah Blum’s blog about pepper spray. This is all about the chemistry of capsaicins, the compound in peppers that makes them hot (and activating on the TRP ion channels, for those who missed my earlier post). Most peppers rate pretty formidably high – habaneros score are in the 200,000-300,000 range on the Scoville Scale. But if you extract the capsaicin you can get much higher and the pepper sprays used can rate over 2,000,000 heat units.

Deborah’s piece has a nice break down of what the effects of pepper spray are and they are not at all pleasant. I was shocked how nasty it can be. The pictures of a policeman spraying it on Occupy protesters in California were all the worse when you realize what it is he is spraying on them.

She then had a follow-up post in which some folks on Fox News were saying, basically, “it’s only a little pepper spray, how bad can it be?” Well, pretty bad. The cute name rather hides the nastiness.

But this seems to me a case of the science being not properly explained by the scientist to the lay person. All it would seem to need is the mention of “millions of Schoville heat units” to make my eyes water.

Tangentially related (by virtue of the chemicals used to suppress unruly crowds) was the account of the three times that Leigh Krietsch Boerner was hit by tear gas. Well worth a read.

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