Unlike conventional weapons systems, the range of effects of non-lethal weapons on the human target is a critical parameter that must be well understood in order to ensure that operationally relevant effects are provided while minimizing the potential for serious injury or lethality. Human effects, effectiveness, and risk must be quantified in order to support legal, treaty, and policy reviews and to ensure warfighter confidence in new technologies.

Characterization and quantification of non-lethal human effects is a challenge for developers because effects data is limited in comparison to lethal weapons. Thus, non-lethal human effects characterization has become a focus area for the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program's scientific research. The Department of Defense Non-Lethal Weapons Executive Agent has established organizations and processes to facilitate effects research, review, and application.