What may seem as a harmless dare involving a common kitchen spice, could cause serious injury or death.
America’s 57 poison control centers are warning the public that a game called the “Cinnamon Challenge” carries serious and potentially fatal health risks.
The Cinnamon Challenge is a dare game in which a person attempts to swallow a tablespoon of powdered cinnamon in less than one minute without drinking water or other liquid. However, because the cinnamon coats the inside of the mouth and inhibits the salivary glands, it dries the user’s mouth out and makes swallowing difficult. This can result in choking, coughing, gagging, vomiting or respiratory irritation. People with respiratory conditions or asthma are at greater risk of adverse effects.
While the game has been around since 2000, it has dramatically gained in popularity in 2011 and 2012 due to the phenomenon of posting videos of adults and children taking the challenge on Facebook and YouTube, especially for comedic entertainment when the challenge results in the user coughing a cloud of cinnamon dust, gasping for air or vomiting.
There are more than 30,000 videos tagged with the term “Cinnamon Challenge” on YouTube, including a video posted by WGN-720 AM radio host Jonathon Brandmeier of Illinois Governor Pat Quinn taking the Cinnamon Challenge on the air that has more than 13,000 views. Some of the videos feature children as young as six years old taking the challenge.
“Although cinnamon is a common flavoring, swallowing a spoonful may result in unpleasant effects that can pose a health risk,” said Alvin C. Bronstein, MD, FACEP, managing and medical director for the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center. “The concern with the cinnamon challenge is that the cinnamon quickly dries out the mouth, making swallowing difficult. As a result, teens who engage in this activity often choke and vomit, injuring their mouths, throats and lungs. Teens who unintentionally breathe the cinnamon into their lungs also risk getting pneumonia as a result.”
The American Association of Poison Control Center’s (AAPCC) National Poison Data System collects information about every call to poison control centers across the United States and shows a dramatic increase in calls involving children aged 13 to 19 years of age exposed to cinnamon. In all of 2011, there were just 51 such calls. However, in just the first three months of 2012 the poison control centers have received 139 calls, 122 of which they classified as intentional misuse or abuse of cinnamon. Thirty calls involved children who required medical attention.
“The exposures reported to poison centers indicating intentional misuse or abuse are likely related to the cinnamon challenge,” Bronstein said. “Unfortunately, videos on the Internet are helping to spread this risky activity among teens. We urge parents and caregivers to talk to their teens about the cinnamon challenge, explaining that what may seem like a silly game can have serious health consequences. AAPCC does not recommend using cinnamon this way.”
WXYZ.com reports that Dejah Reed, a freshman at Huron High School in Ann Arbor, MI, choked on the cinnamon during her attempt at the challenge and could not breathe, going in and out of consciousness on the way to the hospital. She spent four days in the hospital for treatment of a collapsed lung and infection. She still suffers shortness of breath and chest pains related the incident. Reed’s experience prompted her school to send a letter to parents warning of Cinnamon Challenge dangers.
Kids are even taking the Cinnamon Challenge on school grounds.
In Columbus, OH, a high school suspended five students for videoing themselves taking the Cinnamon Challenge during lunchtime, reports 10TV.com.
An elementary school principal in New Haven, CT was placed on administrative leave after she reportedly witnessed students taking the Cinnamon Challenge in the school’s lunchroom and did nothing to stop them, according to The New Haven Register.
“A significant amount of these people who are doing it are requiring some kind of medical attention,” Dr. Steve Salzman of Christ Advocate Hospital told Fox Chicago News. “And yeah, this isn't a joke. It's not a harmless prank. It's stupid.”