Don't take the cinnamon challenge. That's the advice from doctors in a new report about a dangerous prank depicted in popular YouTube videos but which has led to hospitalizations and a surge in calls to U.S. poison centers.
The fad involves daring someone to swallow a spoonful of ground cinnamon in 60 seconds without water. But the spice is caustic, and trying to gulp it down can cause choking and related problems, the report said.
At least 30 teens nationwide needed medical attention after taking the challenge last year, said the report, published online Monday in Pediatrics.
The number of poison control center calls about teens doing the prank "has increased dramatically," from 51 in 2011 to 222 last year, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.
Thousands of YouTube videos depict kids attempting the challenge, resulting in an "orange burst of dragon breath" spewing out of their mouths and sometimes hysterical laughter from friends watching the stunt, said report co-author Dr. Steven E. Lipshultz, a pediatrics professor at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
Cinnamon is made from tree bark and contains cellulose fibers that don't easily break down. Dr. Stephen Pont, a spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics and an Austin, Texas pediatrician, said the report is "a call to arms to parents and doctors to be aware of things like the cinnamon challenge" and to pay attention to what their kids are viewing online.
A teen whose lung collapsed after trying the cinnamon challenge heartily supports the new advice and started her own website — http://nocinnamonchallenge.com — telling teens to "just say no" to the fad.
Dejah Reed, 16, said she took the challenge four times. The final time was in February last year, with a friend who didn't want to try it alone.
"I was laughing very hard, and I coughed it out and I inhaled it into my lungs," she said. "I couldn't breathe."
Ms. Reed was hospitalized for four days and has had ongoing breathing problems, which she'd never experienced before. She said she'd read about the challenge on Facebook and other social networking sites and "thought it would be cool" to try.
Now Reed says, "It's not cool — and it's dangerous."