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Tear Gas and Pepper Spray - Non-Lethal Force

Agents help U.S. soldiers control civilian populations during moments of unrest.


Tear Gas and Pepper Spray - Non-Lethal Force

Tear gas and pepper spray are still deployed by U.S. Marines as non-lethal weapons used to subdue enemies and control hostile crowds.


Although most often associated with civilian police forces, tear gas and pepper spray still play a role with the U.S. military – primarily with the U.S. Marine Corps – which uses the non-lethal agents to help with riot and crowd control. Marines are also trained on how to use tear gas and pepper spray for self-defense, either against other people or animals such as bears and dogs.

U.S. Marines are frequently exposed to tear gas and pepper spray during training. This helps familiarize Marines with the effects of the agents and teaches them how to function and perform their jobs after they have been exposed to the gas and spray. Although the U.S. Army concluded in a 1993 report that exposure to pepper spray and tear gas may lead to serious problems such as cancer and heart disease, these agents continue to be used as a means of subduing enemies and civilian populations without killing them.

Irritating the Eyes

Tear gas and pepper spray are comprised of different compounds. The active ingredient in tear gas is the chemical 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile. Pepper spray is derived from chili plants. However, both agents are similar in that they irritate people’s eyes and cause them to water or tear-up. Excessive exposure to pepper spray can cause temporary blindness in some people. Exposure to tear gas and pepper spray is painful and uncomfortable, and it often causes people to run away from it.

Tear gas and pepper spray are most often used to break-up crowds and riots. Militaries around the world regularly use the agents in combat zones and trouble spots such as Iraq, Afghanistan, North Ireland, Israel and Cyprus. Tear gas and pepper spray have been the subject of controversy as they are often used by soldiers against civilian populations in moments of civil unrest.    

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