When you were younger, did you ever play Truth or Dare? The concept is simple: the person whose turn it is indicates whether they want Truth (a probing question) or Dare. Dare can be anything from eating something gross, to calling a romantic interest and singing to them, to running around the backyard in a state of undress.
Currently, if somebody dared me to eat an ice cream sundae topped with mayonnaise instead of whipped cream (a memorable Dare from my past), I would politely decline. But teens are impulsive, thrill-seeking, experience-sharing, and willing to go a very long way in order to please their peers. At 15, I choked down that sundae, laughing and groaning the whole time.
Now that we have Youtube, it’s not necessary to have friends over to watch someone choose Dare. There are videos of teens attempting the most dangerous, embarassing, cringeworthy, and miraculous stunts you could dream of. But did you know that you can use Youtube to issue a dare? As more and more videos pop up of the “Cinnamon Challenge,” they are an implicit, and often outright, dare to try it yourself- and film it.
The “Cinnamon Challenge,” involves eating a certain amount- usually a tablespoon or teaspoon- of cinnamon without drinking any water. Easy, right? We’ve all had cinnamon. A lot might taste overwhelming, but it shouldn’t be hard.
Until it is. We need saliva to swallow, and cinnamon dries it all up on contact. By the time someone is desperately trying to choke down the third gulp of cinnamon, they’ve lost their ability to swallow. There are scores of videos of gagging, crying, incoherently shouting teens (and adults) “taking the challenge.”
So why would anyone in their right mind do it? Well, see the mayonnaise sundae, above. It tasted awful. It made me feel sick. But what is more intoxicating to a teen than the encouraging laughter of their peers, or even the long-distance thrill when there is another “like” on their Youtube video?
Unfortunately, the “Cinnamon Challenge” also carries real health dangers. Cinnamon is a fine, corrosive powder. If someone tries to swallow it, amidst the coughing and the gasping and the gagging, they will most likely inhale it.
Inhaled cinnamon can injure the lining of our lungs, leading to anything from a brief coughing fit to being hospitalized for pneumonia and a collapsed lung. Multiple teens have had to go on ventilator support, because their lungs couldn’t take the blast of damage. Most teens don’t suffer anything beyond some short-term damage and discomfort. But the “Cinnamon Challenge” remains a really bad idea; even worse if your teen has asthma or other lung issues.
So ask your teen about it. Have they done it? Has a friend done it? What happened? Let them know that anyone who asks them to do this is tricking them into something that’s painful, highly unpleasant, and pretty much impossible. It could even cause them long-term consequences; discuss how it would feel to have injured lungs. It would interfere with everything from playing a sport to sleeping soundly without coughing all night. It’s a stupid idea, and they’re smarter than that.
If you stumble across a wayward teen suffering the ill effect of a recent “Cinnamon Challenge,” stay calm. They will most likely be coughing wildly, which is how their lungs try to clear the cinnamon, or vomiting. Wipe out their mouth with a wet cloth. Give them lots of water to drink. Make sure they don’t choke. Let them catch their breath before you tell them what you think of their actions. If they truly can’t breathe, turn blue, or pass out, call 911 (as you would in any other situation.)
The “Cinnamon Challenge” webpage has a disclaimer that states, “Do not take the Cinnamon Challenge without talking to a doctor. Obviously, they are going to tell you not to do it.” I can support that statement.