Riot control agents: pharmacology, toxicology, biochemistry and chemistry

J Appl Toxicol. 2001 Sep-Oct;21(5):355-91. doi: 10.1002/jat.767.


The desired effect of all riot control agents is the temporary disablement of individuals by way of intense irritation of the mucous membranes and skin. Generally, riot control agents can produce acute site-specific toxicity where sensory irritation occurs. Early riot control agents, namely, chloroacetophenone (CN) and chlorodihydrophenarsazine (DM), have been replaced with 'safer' agents such as o-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile (CS) and oleoresin of capsicum (OC). Riot control agents are safe when used as intended: however, the widespread use of riot control agents raises questions and concerns regarding their health effects and safety. A large margin exists between dosages that produce harassment and dosages likely to cause adverse health effects for modern riot control agents such as CS and dibenz[b,f]1 : 4-oxazepine (CR). Yet, despite the low toxicity of modern riot control agents, these compounds are not entirely without risk. The risk of toxicity increases with higher exposure levels and prolonged exposure durations. Ocular, pulmonary and dermal injury may occur on exposure to high levels of these substances, and exposure to riot control agents in enclosed spaces may produce significant toxic effects. Reported deaths are few involving riot control agents, and then only under conditions of prolonged exposure and high concentrations. Recently, concern has focused on the deaths resulting from law enforcement use of OC, a riot control agent generally regarded as safe because it is a natural product. As with other xenobiotics, not enough is known concerning the long-term/chronic effects of riot control agents. Clearly, there is considerable need for additional research to define and delineate the biological and toxicological actions of riot control agents and to illuminate the full health consequences of these compounds as riot control agents.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Inhalation
  • Administration, Topical
  • Animals
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Humans
  • Lethal Dose 50
  • Molecular Structure
  • Riot Control Agents, Chemical* / chemistry
  • Riot Control Agents, Chemical* / metabolism
  • Riot Control Agents, Chemical* / toxicity
  • Species Specificity


  • Riot Control Agents, Chemical