Are Tasers Safe?

As of Nov. 4, Taser International cited 206 studies on electronic control devices, commonly known as Tasers. Most are favorable to the company. Taser devices have been used on more than 1.3 million people, according to company estimates. And while Amnesty International counts more than 340 deaths since 2001 in North America following police use of Tasers, that amounts to less than 0.03 percent of all Taser exposures.

The following studies provide a small sample of the existing medical literature that tries to answer the question: Are Tasers safe?

Surface Application of Taser Stun Guns Does Not Cause Ventricular Fibrillation in Canines (2000)
Findings: There’s a “very small” risk that normal use of Tasers on healthy humans could induce ventricular fibrillation.

Acidosis, lactate, electrolytes, muscle enzymes, and other factors in the blood of Sus scrofa following repeated TASER exposures (2005)
Findings: Prolonged, repeated Taser exposures on pigs resulted in significantly lower blood pH and higher lactate. “Muscle contractions and changes in respiration each appeared to contribute to the acidosis.”

Cardiac Safety of Neuromuscular Incapacitating Defensive Devices (2005)
Findings: Tasers have a safety margin of greater than 20:1 for the average human adult. Taser points out that acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, has an 8:1 safety margin.

Cardiac Electrophysiological Consequences of Neuromuscular Incapacitating Device Discharges (2006)
Findings: Taser discharges across the chest can produce cardiac stimulation at high rates. This suggests that Tasers may have cardiac risks that require further investigation.

Cardiovascular and Physiologic Effects of Conducted Electrical Weapon Discharge in Resting Adults (2006)
Findings: The TASER X26 did not affect the human heart following a standard five-second application.

Effects of Cocaine Intoxication on the Threshold for Stun Gun Induction of Ventricular Fibrillation (2006)
Findings: Cocaine actually protects humans from potentially Taser-induced ventricular fibrillation.

Acute Effects of TASER X26 Discharges in a Swine Model (2007)
Findings: Prolonged Taser exposure can cause “severe metabolic and respiratory acidosis,” potentially resulting in death.

Physiological Effects of a Conducted Electrical Weapon on Human Subjects (2007)
Findings: A standard five-second Taser exposure to “healthy law enforcement personnel does not result in clinically significant changes of physiologic stress.”

Cardiac stimulation with high voltage discharge from stun guns (2008)
Findings: “Stun guns may stimulate the heart while discharges are being applied … In our view, it is inappropriate to conclude that stun gun discharges cannot lead to adverse cardiac consequences in all real world settings.”

Echocardiographic Evaluation of a TASER-X26 Application in the Ideal Human Cardiac Axis (2008)
Findings: A 10-second Taser exposure to humans did not result in a fast heart beat, casting doubt on the effectiveness of using pig models for Taser studies.

TASER X26 Discharges in Swine Produce Potentially Fatal Ventricular Arrhythmias (2008)
Findings: Taser discharges “immediately and invariably” affected pig hearts, contrary to Taser’s assertion. One pig experienced fatal ventricular fibrillation. It’s possible that Tasers can affect the human heart, possibly even causing ventricular fibrillation.

An August 25, 2008, review of the safety literature from one of Taser’s experts

A November 4, 2008, index of all the research conducted on electronic control devices (Tasers)

A July 14, 2008, index of all the research conducted on electronic control devices (Tasers), with conclusions from Taser’s point of view

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