International Journal of Legal Medicine

, Volume 132, Issue 5, pp 1469–1475 | Cite as

Adrenergic and metabolic effects of electrical weapons: review and meta-analysis of human data

  • S. N. KunzEmail author
  • H. G. Calkins
  • J. Adamec
  • M. W. Kroll



Electronic control with the CEW (conducted electrical weapon) has gained widespread acceptance as the preferred force option due to its significant injury reduction. However, a CEW application does stress the human body. In the case of the CEW, the human body response is similar to the challenge of physical exercise combined with emotional stress over a very short time interval. There has been concern whether the tension of the skeletal-muscle system together with the emotional stress of being exposed to the effects of a CEW, can lead to severe metabolic dysfunction.


A systematic and careful search of the MedLine database was performed to find publications describing pathophysiological effects of CEWs. Additional publications were collected through a manual search of reference lists in retrieved articles. After preliminary exclusions, we carefully reviewed the remaining publications and found 24 papers reporting prospective human clinical research data on adrenergic, ventilation, or metabolic effects. Where there were multiple studies on the same endpoints, we performed meta-analyses.


A CEW exposure provides a clinically insignificant increase in heart rate (7.5 BPM) and a drop in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Alpha-amylase goes down but cortisol levels increase—both epinephrine and norepinephrine levels are increased by levels similar to mild exercise. A CEW exposure increases ventilation but does not appear to interfere with gas exchange. Lactate is increased slightly while the pH is decreased slightly with changes equivalent to mild exercise. The lactate and pH changes appear quickly and do not appear to be affected by increasing the exposure duration from 5 to 30 s.


Thorough review and meta-analyses show that electrical weapon exposures have mixed and mild adrenergic effects. Ventilation is increased and there are metabolic changes similar to mild exercise.


Forensic medicine Conducted electrical weapon Metabolic effects Catecholamines Biomarkers 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

This paper is a result of literature research, which was not funded. Kunz SN, Calkins H, and Kroll MW are members of the scientific medical advisory board of Axon Int. (fka TASER). Kroll MW also is on Axon corporate board. Calkins H and Kroll MK have been expert witnesses in law-enforcement litigation and Calkins H has been an expert witness in cases of arrest-related death involving CEWs. Adamec J has no conflict of interest to declare.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. N. Kunz
    • 1
    Email author
  • H. G. Calkins
    • 2
  • J. Adamec
    • 3
  • M. W. Kroll
    • 4
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of Forensic PathologyLandspítali University HospitalReykjavikIceland
  2. 2.Johns Hopkins Medical InstitutionsBaltimoreUSA
  3. 3.Institute of Forensic MedicineLudwig-Maximilian UniversityMunichGermany
  4. 4.Department of Biomedical EngineeringUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA
  5. 5.California Polytechnical InstituteSan Luis ObispoUSA

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