As a former college roommate asked, why?! It’s going to hurt. This isn’t some frat brother stunt for the sake of the internet.
OC is, after all, a weapon. Merriam Webster doesn’t use the word “weapon,” but that’s what it is. It’s a non-lethal weapon used to subdue and control. It’s not what you reach for when you want to make friends.
Oleoresin Capsicum. It’s right there in the name: oil, resin, and pepper. Also translates to mean, “Your day is about to be ruined.”
I was sprayed as part of a Navy sentry training program, a pre-req for anti-terrorism tactical watch officers. The program covers non-lethal weapons, including unarmed combat, batons, and OC. We spent a day kicking bags and throwing each other around a field before learning baton strikes and the agony that is OC on the second day. The theory makes sense; if you are going to either be sprayed by an assailant as a sentry or be cross-contaminated in the field, you will probably panic if you’ve never felt it before. If you must panic, please panic in a controlled environment so when it happens for real, you’ll at least know what to expect.
Best as I can tell, my OC reaction was fairly typical. If you are ever sprayed in a training environment, your mileage may vary, but I turned out about average. We were sprayed with military grade, 10% concentration. I’m not going to go too far into Scoville Heating Units (SHU), since different carriers can make lower concentrations with fewer SHU worse. At the end of the day, pepper spray is mighty toasty, and military and police grade OC is generally hotter than the little keychain sprays you can buy online. I will give this general comparison: jalapeños have 2500-5000 SHU, cayenne peppers have 30,000-50,000 SHU, and habanero peppers have 100K-250K SHU. Inside the can, military grade OC is around 5 million SHU, though out of the nozzle it’s closer to 500K. As I said, toasty.
Capsaicin is the compound that gives peppers their kick. It causes temporary blindness by irritating the eyes and swelling the eyelids. If inhaled, it will cause a burning sensation in the throat and lungs and stimulate coughing. Any skin it touches while activated will have the same burning feeling. OC is oil-based, so you can’t just rinse it off. Flushing the eyes is effective an extent, but you have to strobe your eyes to produce tears to completely wash it out. If you try to use water, you will just reactivate the chemicals; unfortunately this also means that flushing your eyes will spread the burning feeling to the rest of your face. The best remedy is time; once it’s out of your eyes, you just have to wait for the rest to dry out.
Here’s a rough timeline of my experience with OC (very rough, as I wasn’t wearing a watch and my perception of time was a little skewed):
30 seconds: My eyes swelled shut.
45 seconds: OC entered my eyes and “kicked in.”
5 minutes: I completed the course.
6 minutes: Flushed my eyes, reactivated the spray on the rest of my face.
30 minutes: I could open my eyes for brief periods, but the burning on the outside of my eyelids was still incapacitating. My nose stopped running.
60 minutes: I could keep my eyes open. The rest of my face felt like a severe sunburn. The OC had started to crystallize, but my face was too tender to brush the crystals off. I had the occasional reflash as crystals formed in the corners of my eyes. The other participants and I agree we all have an inexplicable craving for ice cream.
1.5 hours: I ventured into the very sunny parking lot to find sunglasses, after which I could open my eyes in the shade without squinting.
2 hours: We were released from observation, and I drove home with the AC on full blast and fearing another reflash.
3 hours: Accidental cross-contamination flashed on my arms. Every time I tried to drink something, my lips started burning.
4 hours: The exposure stopped hurting enough for me to wash my arms, face, and hair with a combination of baby shampoo and Dawn, setting off a brief but very unpleasant reflash.
8 hours: I went to buy ice cream and had another reflash in the middle of the grocery store. My face only hurt when I moved my eyebrows or blinked too enthusiastically, and even then it felt more like stiff muscles than burning.
24 hours: My eyebrow muscles still felt stiff and I was a little more sensitive to light than I remembered. The only thing that consistently hurt was the scrape on my elbow (from uppercut elbow strikes the first day of NLW) which was contaminated when I washed my face.
So there you have it. Never again will the Navy have to hit me with OC and make me run an obstacle course for a training exercise. I’m done.