Thirty thousand videos of teens and celebrities attempting “the Cinnamon Challenge” are popping up all over the internet. (Sorry, we’re not going to link to them!) The dare: Swallow a tablespoon of powdered cinnamon in 60 seconds, without water. The problem with that? Vomiting, choking, and trouble breathing for starters, say poison-control experts.
Cinnamon-related calls to poison centers across the nation shot up in the first three months of 2012, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC). From January to March, poison centers got 139 calls regarding teen exposure to cinnamon. Thirty needed medical assessments. In 2011, poison centers reported 51 calls regarding cinnamon exposure. (Reports of a cinnamon challenge-related deaths don’t appear to be true, however.)
Cinnamon powder can be a powerful irritant. It doesn’t help that this kitchen spice, made from ground tree bark, doesn’t break down easily. It can coat a kid’s mouth and throat, drying out tissues and causing gagging, soreness and breathing problems. Kids with asthma or other respiratory problems who try it are at higher risk for trouble. “Teens who unintentionally breathe the cinnamon into their lungs also risk getting pneumonia as a result, ” noted Alvin C. Bronstein, MD, FACEP, managing and medical director for the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center in an advisory from the AAPCC.
Tell that to celebs who’ve taken the challenge publicly, including Washington Wizzards players Nick Young and Javale McGee and Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, who reportedly tried a spoonful while appearing on a radio show in February.
School districts across the nation have warned kids and parents about this kitchen-spice prank. Locally, Pottstown Middle School responded to several incidents of kids taking the challenge at school by banning open-top boots (like suede-and-fleece Uggs) after catching one student trying to smuggle cinnamon in a pair of boots, according to The Mercury newspaper there.