Forensic Science, Medicine and Pathology

, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 358–366 | Cite as

Cardiac and skeletal muscle effects of electrical weapons

A review of human and animal studies
  • Sebastian N. Kunz
  • Hugh Calkins
  • Jiri Adamec
  • Mark W. Kroll


Conducted Electrical Weapons (CEWs) are being used as the preferred non-lethal force option for police and special forces worldwide. This new technology challenges an exposed opponent similarly to the way they would be challenged by physical exercise combined with emotional stress. While adrenergic and metabolic effects have been meta-analyzed and reviewed, there has been no systematic review of the effects of CEWs on skeletal and cardiac muscle. A systematic and careful search of the MedLine database was performed to find publications describing pathophysiological cardiac and skeletal muscle effects of CEWs. For skeletal muscle effects, we analyzed all publications providing changes in creatine kinase, myoglobin and potassium. For cardiac effects, we analyzed reported troponin changes and arrhythmias related to short dart-to-heart-distances. Conducted electrical weapons satisfy all relevant electrical safety standards and there are, to date, no proven electrocution incidents caused by CEWs. A potential cardiovascular risk has been recognized by some of the experimental animal data. The effects on the heart appear to be limited to instances when there is a short dart-to-heart-distance. The effect on the skeletal muscle system appears to be negligible. A responsible use of a CEW on a healthy adult, within the guidelines proposed by the manufacturer, does not imply a significant health risk for that healthy adult.


Forensic medicine Conducted electrical weapon TASER Ventricular fibrillation Electrocution 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

This paper is a result of literature research, which was not funded. SNK, HC, and MWK are members of the scientific medical advisory board of Axon Int. (fka TASER). MWK also is on Axon corporate board. HC & MWK have been expert witnesses in law-enforcement litigation and HC has been an expert witness in cases of arrest related deaths involving CEWs.

J. Adamec has no conflict to declare.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sebastian N. Kunz
    • 1
    • 2
  • Hugh Calkins
    • 3
  • Jiri Adamec
    • 4
  • Mark W. Kroll
    • 5
    • 6
  1. 1.Department of Forensic PathologyLandspítali University HospitalReykjavikIceland
  2. 2.University of IcelandReykjavikIceland
  3. 3.Johns Hopkins Medical InstitutionsBaltimoreUSA
  4. 4.Institute of Forensic MedicineLudwig-Maximilians University MunichMunichGermany
  5. 5.Department of Biomedical EngineeringUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA
  6. 6.California Polytechnical InstituteSan Luis ObispoUSA

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