Many people know cinnamon as an ancient spice that was highly regarded as a gift to the gods. These days, in the social media world, the spice has become a sort of double- dare-you as the “Cinnamon Challenge.” Young people attempt to swallow a heaping helping of cinnamon without water. The dare has gone viral on YouTube with over 79 million views.
Calls to poison centers concerning kids ingesting cinnamon as part of the cinnamon challenge have dramatically increased this year according to the Association of Poison Control Center’s National Poison Data System (AAPCC).
As a result of the increase, poison control experts are now warning parents and teens about the health risks associated with the intentional misuse or abuse of cinnamon, according to Alvin C. Bronstein, MD, managing and medical director for the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center.
“Although cinnamon is a common flavoring, swallowing a spoonful may result in unpleasant effects that can pose a health risk,” Bronstein said.
“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.”
Why is ingesting cinnamon dangerous? Because it’s a fine powder that can cause a violent reaction.
Doctors say the challenge is impossible because the cinnamon cannot be digested without water and warn that by inhaling the cinnamon dust teens run the risk of inflaming or scarring their lungs.
“If you have some fine particles, like cinnamon in your lungs, it may be hard to clear out,” said Dr. Robert Zaid of Providence Hospital in Mobile, Ala. ”Your lungs can kind of collapse on you. There have been several cases reported where kids needed ventilator support because they weren’t able to maintain their airway.”
Dr. Russell Migita, Clinical Director of Emergency Services at Seattle Children’s Hospital, says, “The extreme coughing most people experience can be a harmful side effect."
“People who cough that hard can have problems that can range from collapsing a lung to having lungs that get really inflamed, or pulmonary edema,” Migita says.
Amy Hanoian-Fontana, education specialist at the Connecticut Poison Control Center, says that the biggest concerns of ingesting cinnamon come from side effects such as vomiting or an allergic reaction. People with asthma or respiratory-compromised conditions are more at risk.
“People usually vomit,” Hanoian-Fontana says. "The dry fine powder coats all the mucous membrane; someone could end up with respiratory distress or trouble breathing. The risk is more from a mouth, throat or lung injury than any poisoning reaction from the cinnamon.”
School districts are trying to keep an eye out for kids who may be trying the “cinnamon challenge.” Like many other social media movements, schools face their own challenge trying to catch a trend before it does any harm. Some schools have started sending notes home to parents warning them of the dangers of swallowing dry cinnamon, hoping to update them on the latest and –potentially dangerous- fad.
So, if you should find your child looking through the pantry or spice rack, ask them what they are looking for, and let them know that the cinnamon is off limits.