Riot control agents: the tear gases CN, CS and OC-a medical review

J R Army Med Corps. 2015 Jun;161(2):94-9. doi: 10.1136/jramc-2013-000165. Epub 2013 Dec 30.


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.

Keywords: 2-Chloroacetophenone; o-Chlorobenzylidenemalonitrile; CS; CN; Oleoresin capsicum OC; pepper spray; medical review.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Military Medicine
  • Military Personnel
  • Plant Extracts*
  • Protective Devices
  • Riot Control Agents, Chemical*
  • Riots / prevention & control
  • o-Chlorobenzylidenemalonitrile*
  • omega-Chloroacetophenone*


  • Plant Extracts
  • Riot Control Agents, Chemical
  • oleoresins
  • o-Chlorobenzylidenemalonitrile
  • omega-Chloroacetophenone