Brains in Fashion

Johnny English Strikes Again... With Tear Gas

18th November 2018

The third instalment of everybody’s favourite ridiculously terrible secret agent has arrived! Johnny English Strikes Again came to the cinema last month and it did not disappoint. If you want to read a full review on it, check out Striking Reviews thoughts here.


SPOILER ALERT! We thought we’d take this opportunity to investigate what tear gas is and how it works. This technically isn’t a spoiler as they show most of the scene in the trailer, but whilst speeding through the mountains, Johnny English is blocked by a bunch of French cyclists. Instead of simply waiting, or honking his horn, Johnny does what he does best and fires tear gas into the group causing them all to buckle over and move to the side of the road with burning eyes! So, what actually is tear gas and why does it have this effect on us?

What is tear gas?


Tear gas, surprisingly, isn’t actually usually a gas. It is a solid, suspended in a solution and sprayed out as an aerosol or grenade. There are many different chemicals that can be used as tear gas, but they all share the same basic structure. Some examples of these chemicals are CS, CN (Mace) and pepper spray.


Pepper spray is slightly different from all the other tear gases as it’s derived from a plant source (chilli peppers) and dissolved in vegetable oil. It’s more effective than the other tear gases, but it’s harder to use in large crowds so it’s more often just used for self-defence against an individual or small group of people.


What does it do?


Tear gas works by irritating the mucous membranes (lining) of the eyes, nose, mouth and lungs. The effects kick in after about 30 seconds and cause the eyes to burn and water, excessive saliva to build up in the mouth, skin irritation and pain in the chest with difficulty breathing.


It's the lachrymatory (tear causing) agents in the tear gas which causes this effect. The chemical compounds activate pain-sensing nerves. There have been studies which suggest that people under the influence of alcohol may be less sensitive to the effects of tear gas. This could be due to the fact that alcohol depresses the central nervous system, reducing pain sensitivity.


After exposure to tear gas, victims are often desperate to reverse the effects and stop the pain. They are often seen pouring milk on their faces as it’s commonly believed that this is an effective antidote. However, the best antidote is fresh air and time. Victims best road to recovery is moving into an area without any tear gas in the air and simply waiting for the effects to wear off. They usually subside within 10 minutes.



So, from what we’ve learnt, it seems most likely that Johnny English used either CS or CN on the cyclists, as it was delivered as a grenade type explosive, rather than pepper spray which can’t be delivered in this way. As for the cyclists, although it was probably some of the worst 10 minutes in their lives, after 10 minutes recovery at the side of the road, they should have been absolutely fine to continue on their cycling journey!


Which of the three Johnny English films has been your favourite, let us know via email ( or social media (@wonkscience).