I’ve been mentioning the cinnamon challenge in clinic with my teen patients after I learned about it earlier this month. Read this nice summary. The challenge is to swallow a teaspoon of cinnamon in less time than it takes me to explain what it is (60 seconds). Reality is, my patients tend to know about the challenge, but their parents don’t. I usually talk about it along with a whole list of other topics while their parents are out of the room (bullying-the choking game-sex-drugs-violence-texting & driving or other threats to their safety). Recently, a patient was able to explain the challenge to her mom with me in the room right after her mom returned and joined us. We discussed the reasons the cinnamon challenge can be life threatening and stupid. Teens don’t want to get hurt, but they really do want to be strong, and ohhhh, competition is seductive. Teens (like most grown-ups) love to preserve that feeling of invincibility. Precisely why the challenge has caught on.
The cinnamon challenge has its own website and has gone viral with the help of social media. The topic has been viewed online more than 60 million times with some pages boasting over 10,000 “likes.” The reason? The challenge itself is so visual and so inexpensive to replicate, teens are capturing videos of the challenge and putting them on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and on their phones. Pretty funny, right?
This is the part where I sound like a doctor. The dangers from the cinnamon challenge are real; multiple children have been hospitalized. Some children have had serious complications including loss of consciousness, collapsing lungs, ICU care, and days on a ventilator. Cinnamon is easily aerosolized but not easily dissolved. Once it lodges into tissue, it can cause great havoc and remain there. Coughing while gasping and/or choking on cinnamon can cause it to be easily inhaled or aspirated or swallowed leading into tissues in our bodies. We worry most about it collecting in the lungs.
The challenge is real. The side effects even more so.
Yikes! Thanks for bringing this to our awareness. I hadn’t heard of this challenge. I have young sons (ages 7 and 5), and I’m thinking I should talk to them about this…is there an age-appropriate way to explain this to younger children? I told my sons about the choking game last year, but then found that they mentioned it around their friends, which I found to be a bit embarrassing, as I wasn’t sure if other parents understood why I thought it was important to educate my children, even at an early age, on the dangers of these things. My boys thought the choking game seemed silly and absurd, so they tended to make light of it, even though I tried to communicate that it was serious and life-threatening. I felt like my attempt to educate them on a serious matter became of more interest to them, but not in the way I had hoped/intended. Seems like it’s better to talk about these things than to not say anything and risk having our youngsters learn about them in the public school setting, but my attempt to teach seemed to have the opposite effect, much of which could likely be attributed to age, so I’m just curious about how to handle these matters with younger kids.
Natasha Burgert, MD says
Great message to share, Dr. Swanson. To the best of my knowledge, this “game” was initially popularized months ago by the TV show “Tosh.0.” Maybe an additional message to share with families is to continue a comfortable level of awareness of television shows that their tween/teen is watching. Undoubtedly, there are more “challenges” where this one came from….
Since reading your post I’ve learned that this is a common Firehouse prank, very commonly played on rookies. Firefighters call it the cinnamon dragon, and their version involves 1 tablespoon. I can’t decide if a firefighter failing to swallow a mouth full of cinnamon makes the challenge more enticing to a child or less.
Rafael lugo says
I agree 100% percent and it should be banned from these sites. Aspiration pneumonia is a deadly condition. I think that the medical community should get active in eliminating sny kind of social endorsement of such behavior. As a parent of a two teens I have made sure that they understand the consequences of this behavior. Our children are very much influence by the social networks and things like this should be condemned and not allowed. Kudos to the Seattle mamma doc form taken the steps to avoid your children from creating such a complex problem to themselves.