MONDAY, April 22 (HealthDay News) -- As if parents didn't have
enough to worry about, it seems a growing number of kids are taking
the "Cinnamon Challenge" -- a stunt that has landed some in the ER,
The Cinnamon Challenge sounds simple but is almost impossible:
Swallow a tablespoon of ground cinnamon in 60 seconds without the
help of a drink. Invariably, the taker ends up gagging and coughing
up the spice -- creating a big brown cloud dubbed "dragon
Onlookers apparently find it funny, said Dr. Steven Lipshultz, a
pediatrics professor at the University of Miami Miller School of
Medicine in Florida. There are over 51,000 YouTube clips of the
stunt -- one of which was viewed more than 19 million times as of
last August, Lipshultz and his colleagues report in the May issue
But it could be dangerous for the person who downs the
Usually, people suffer no more than burning in the throat, mouth
and nose, and a bad cough. But, Lipshultz said, ground cinnamon can
be inhaled into the lungs, and some kids have ended up in the ER
with problems as serious as a collapsed lung.
"We wanted to bring this to people's attention," Lipshultz said. "This seems to be an increasing problem, and based on animal studies, there's the potential for lasting effects (on the lungs)."
In animal studies, he and his colleagues noted, a single dose of
cinnamon "dust" has been found to trigger lasting lung
inflammation, thickening and scarring.
Cinnamon is composed of cellulose fibers that do not break down
if they enter the lungs, according to Lipshultz. No one knows if
Cinnamon Challenge takers face any risk of long-term lung damage,
but there is evidence of immediate risks.
In 2011, Lipshultz's team said, U.S. poison control centers
fielded 51 calls related to the stunt. In just the first half of
2012, there were 122 calls linked to "misuse or abuse" of the
At least 30 challenge takers have needed medical attention,
according to the American Association of Poison Control
Late last year, ER doctors at the Loyola University Health
System in Maywood, Ill., saw about a dozen 9-year-olds who'd tried
Dry, loose cinnamon can burn and irritate the mucous membranes
that line the digestive and respiratory tracts, including the
lungs. One concern is that the powder will be inhaled into the
lungs, said Dr. Christina Hantsch, a toxicologist with the Loyola
Another worry is that, if a challenge taker throws up -- as they
often do -- vomit will be inhaled back into lungs, Hantsch added.
That could lead to inflammation and infection known as aspiration
Lipshultz said the jump in calls to poison control centers in
2012 coincided with the surge in Cinnamon Challenge videos on
YouTube. And the number of Google hits on the topic rose from 0.2
million in 2009 to 2.4 million in the first half of 2012.
Plus, it's not only teenagers who are flaunting their encounters
with the Cinnamon Challenge. Celebrities and even politicians have
posted their own videos, both Lipshultz and Hantsch pointed
"And then if their peers start doing it, too, kids feel social pressure to try it," Lipshultz said.
What can parents do, short of locking up the spice rack? Hantsch
suggested parents pay attention to what their kids are viewing
online, and talk with them about the potential dangers of this
seemingly harmless stunt.
Lipshultz agreed. If kids know there are serious risks, they
might be dissuaded. "Our hope is that if they have the information,
they'll make smarter decisions," he said.
Cinnamon is not the only spice of abuse, however. Ground nutmeg
-- when snorted, smoked or eaten in large amounts -- can create a
marijuana-like high, Hantsch noted.
Unfortunately, she added, "there are many household items that
can be abused."
Those range from glue to hand sanitizers to aerosol cooking
sprays -- and even marshmallows. A challenge popular with kids,
Hantsch said, is the "Chubby Bunny," where you shove as many
marshmallows into your mouth as possible, then try to say the words
At least two children have choked to death trying the stunt, she
of Poison Control Centershas information on household products
that are used and abused.
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