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Can the Direct Cardiac Effects of the Electric Pulses Generated by the TASER X26 Cause Immediate or Delayed Sudden Cardiac Arrest in Normal Adults?

Ideker, Raymond E. MD, PhD*†‡; Dosdall, Derek J. PhD

The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology: September 2007 - Volume 28 - Issue 3 - p 195-201
doi: 10.1097/PAF.0b013e31803179a9

There is only a small amount of experimental data about whether the TASER X26, a nonlethal weapon that delivers a series of brief electrical pulses to cause involuntary muscular contraction to temporarily incapacitate an individual, can initiate ventricular fibrillation to cause sudden cardiac arrest either immediately or sometime after its use. Therefore, this paper uses the fundamental law of electrostimulation and experimental data from the literature to estimate the likelihood of such events. Because of the short duration of the TASER pulses, the large duration of the cardiac cell membrane time constant, the small fraction of current from electrodes on the body surface that passes through the heart, and the resultant high pacing threshold from the body surface, the fundamental law of electrostimulation predicts that the TASER pulses will not stimulate an ectopic beat in the large majority of normal adults. Since the immediate initiation of ventricular fibrillation in a normal heart requires a very premature stimulated ectopic beat and the threshold for such premature beats is higher than less premature beats, it is unlikely that TASER pulses can immediately initiate ventricular fibrillation in such individuals through the direct effect of the electric field generated through the heart by the TASER. In the absence of preexisting heart disease, the delayed development of ventricular fibrillation requires the electrical stimuli to cause electroporation or myocardial necrosis. However, the electrical thresholds for electroporation and necrosis are many times higher than that required to stimulate an ectopic beat. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that the TASER X26 can cause ventricular fibrillation minutes to hours after its use through direct cardiac effects of the electric field generated by the TASER.

From the *Department of Medicine, Division of Cardiovascular Disease, †Department of Physiology, and ‡Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama.

Manuscript received January 20, 2006; accepted March 16, 2006.

The authors received financial support from TASER International during the preparation of this paper.

Reprints: Raymond E. Ideker, MD, PhD, B140 Volker Hall, 1670 University Blvd, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL 35294-0019. E-mail:

© 2007 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.