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Riot control agents: the tear gases CN, CS and OC—a medical review
  1. Leo J Schep1,
  2. R J Slaughter1 and
  3. D I McBride2
  1. 1National Poisons Centre, Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand
  2. 2Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand
  1. Correspondence to Dr Leo J Schep, National Poisons Centre, Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, University of Otago, P.O. Box 913, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand; leo.schep{at}


Introduction 2-Chloroacetophenone (CN), o-chlorobenzylidene malonitrile (CS) and oleoresin capsicum (OC) are common riot control agents. While serious systemic effects are uncommon, exposure to high concentrations may lead to severe complications and even death. The aim of this narrative review is to summarise all main aspects of the riot control agents CN, CS and OC toxicology, including mechanisms of toxicity, clinical features and management.

Methods OVID MEDLINE and ISI Web of Science were searched for terms associated with CN, CS and OC toxicity in humans and those describing the mechanism of action, clinical features and treatment protocols.

Results CN, CS and OC are effective lacrimating agents; evidence for toxicity, as measured by the threshold for irritation, is greatest for CN, followed by CS and OC. Typically, ocular and respiratory tract irritation occurs within 20–60 s of exposure. Ocular effects involve blepharospasm, photophobia, conjunctivitis and periorbital oedema. Following inhalation, effects may include a stinging or burning sensation in the nose, tight chest, sore throat, coughing, dyspnoea and difficulty breathing. Dermal outcomes are variable, more severe for CN and include dermal irritation, bulla formation and subcutaneous oedema. Removal from the contaminated area and fresh air is a priority. There is no antidote; treatment consists of thorough decontamination and symptom-directed supportive care. Ocular exposure requires thorough eye decontamination, an eye exam and appropriate pain management. Monitoring and support of respiratory function is important in patients with significant respiratory symptoms. Standard treatment protocols may be required with patients with pre-existing respiratory conditions. Dermal exposures may require systemic steroids for patients who develop delayed contact dermatitis.

Conclusions CN, CS and OC are effective riot control agents. In the majority of exposures, significant clinical effects are not anticipated. The irritant effects can be minimised both by rapid evacuation from sites of exposure, decontamination and appropriate supportive care.

  • 2-Chloroacetophenone; o-Chlorobenzylidenemalonitrile; CS; CN; Oleoresin capsicum OC; pepper spray
  • medical review

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