Pepper Spray Trials

Just after we formed Black Cross, maybe our first or second meeting, someone brought up the fact that no one really knew what helped to make people feel better after they'd been pepper sprayed. It became our first of many large and over-ambitious projects-- to do some version of a clinical trial. We wanted to find out, in an evidence-based fashion, what, of the 100's of things that were flying around the rumor mill, worked to make people feel better, and what didn't.

We started by searching the medical literature, and polling ourselves and our demo-experienced friends in the US and abroad, to get a list of possible remedies. We then looked at the list and separated it into things that we wanted to try sometime, and things that seemed silly, impractical or possibly dangerous. We wanted something that was ideally cheap, easy to buy and use and totally non-toxic. We had a fair amount of debate about how scientific we'd be in designing the trial. Some of us are from traditional scientific backgrounds and wanted to follow a traditional model- others of us were wary of anything established and wanted to break away and create out own model. Since we began the trials, we've moved closer towards traditional scientific models. This move was made perhaps in part out of a lack of ingenuity. But also it was made because it became clear to us that if we were going to subject our friends to fairly serious levels of pain, we wanted the data that came from that pain to be as useful as possible.

Throughout the trials, we've made it our number one priority to keep the trial participants safe. We screen them for a list of conditions that we think could make them have a more risky reaction to being sprayed. We also try to closely monitor people for signs of freaking out. Additionally, as most of us are health care providers in our other lives, we've been able to offer some advice and treatment for non-pepper spray concerns.

Click here to read our trial protocols.

We called on the Portland activist community to come, be fed, hang out, and be pepper sprayed in the name of activist science. And they came. We tried hard to create an environment that was non-clinical. And we expressed constant gratitude to those who got sprayed. Mostly it seemed to work. In the first 6 months or so of the trials we only sprayed skin. We thought that being sprayed in the eye was a huge thing to ask of people, and we wanted to narrow down the field of possible remedies before we started the eye trials. Plus once we started spraying people in the eye, those being sprayed on the skin started to get freaked out- it became a more tense environment.

Anyway below follows a incomplete list of remedies that we have tried or thought about trying- with notes where appropriate.


We think what we're doing is cool- we hope you do too. Though the word incompetent could be used against us with some truthfulness, the fact is we did a lot of work before we started to do this. PLEASE DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME. Not in our name and not in yours either. Write us first. Get some advice. This is scary stuff and potentially dangerous (we sent one asthmatic to the hospital - read what happened here).

Be careful. Do no harm, remember?

What we have already tried that so far hasn't worked is:

    * whole milk
    * bioshield (a product designed for cops who get pepper sprayed, commercially available on the web)- we still haven't given up on this though and hope to keep trying it
    * baby shampoo
    * bentonite clay
    * rescue remedy- we wanted this to work but so far it hasn't
    * baking soda in water- supposedly for tear gas- doesn't work for pepper spray
    * vinegar and water- ditto above
    * lemon juice and water -ditto above

we also tried lots of combos of mineral oil, canola oil, baby shampoo and alcohol in various sequences- oil followed by alcohol was clearly superior to the rest of the combinations

What's worked well and is still in the running is:

    * liquid antacid (ie Maalox)- seems to work only on eyes - not on skin. Mineral oil followed by alcohol- only on skin- never in the eyes
    * hairdryer -from the Scottish literature works quite well (though is obviously impractical)
    * Chinese burn cream- has worked on skin for some not all- not for use in the eyes

Things we'd still like to try but haven't yet because they seem less likely to work, or we can't get them, or we just haven't tried them yet are:

    * powdered milk -double strength
    * onion
    * molasses and water- we think this may be the ingredients in bioshield
    * homeopathic histaminum
    * burnaway cream
    * cornstarch
    * honey
    * receptor blockers
    * yogurt
    * sour cream
    * tap water
    * saline
    * witch hazel
    * aloe
    * Sudecon (a commercially available product, like bioshield, designed for cops’ use)

and pre-treatment with:

    * spicy food
    * antihistamines
    * steroids
    * Tecnu (the poison oak soap)

Things that have been disqualified because they could cause harm or are just plain ridiculous include:

    * sodium metabisulfite (has to be mixed fresh and constantly maintained in solution)
    * sodium carbonate
    * tetracaine and saline (can cause blindness in a very few people)
    * toothpaste
    * eggs

This is all to say that the process ahead is long and that we welcome your ideas, suggestions and antidotal evidence.

Write us at: info at

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