Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Cinnamon Challenge: More Trouble Than It’s Worth

So it’s come down to cinnamon, has it? It seems like people will try anything these days, as long as it makes their friends laugh. Countless YouTube videos have been uploaded of people making fools of themselves (on purpose or not), giving people who watch a laugh. I’m all for a laugh, but some things cross the line.

The “cinnamon challenge” is one of those things. There is a reason why our bodies don’t want to swallow a tablespoon of cinnamon: it’s bad for us. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be a deterrent for some people. The cinnamon challenge, like the nutmeg challenge and the milk gallon challenge, has been around for years.

The cinnamon challenge isn't just physically impossible; it's dangerous for your health.
The cinnamon challenge isn't just physically
impossible; it's dangerous for your health.
Image: Shutterstock

I find myself, however, stumped at the “why” of these situations. Most people have at least a slight intolerance to lactose, which is part of the reason it’s so difficult to chug a gallon of milk. Many people end that challenge by vomiting up the milk before they can finish. Classy.

As for the nutmeg challenge, it is less about getting laughs and more about getting high. Nutmeg can cause hallucinations when consumed in large amounts, and some people have even been hospitalized in the past for being so intoxicated by it.

The cinnamon challenge is literally impossible. Our mouths only contain about one tablespoon of moisture at a time, and a small amount of cinnamon absorbs that very quickly. It is conceivable that someone could consume the entire tablespoonful, but it would certainly take more than sixty seconds.

All these “challenges” are using readily legal and available items. So should we ban minors from buying them? Should we carefully monitor how much people buy at one time? Just the idea is silly. These are everyday items that most people use for common sense purposes, like cooking.

Nonetheless, it is frightening how many teens and children have been hospitalized over the past year for attempting the cinnamon challenge. It’s growing in popularity but it really shouldn’t be. Cinnamon, which is made from tree bark, does not break down easily and can cause scarring if it gets into the lungs—which it does when the challenge is attempted and teens inevitably inhale the powder. The cellulose in cinnamon takes a long time to break down, which means it will stay in the lungs for a long time,potentially causing pulmonary fibrosis (think emphysema).

Many have been placed on ventilators, had lungs collapse, developed asthma, and now have trouble breathing. Yet the challenge lives on, teenagers continuing to try it every day.

Obviously, it doesn’t really make sense to limit sales of common spices like nutmeg and cinnamon. But we can’t just ignore the problem, either. Parents and teachers need to stay in the loop and talk openly with kids and teens about things like the cinnamon challenge. Just because it’s a natural, everyday item used in cooking doesn’t mean it can’t do serious harm—and it’s becoming more and more clear that kids need to be taught as much.