The ‘Cinnamon Challenge’ Is a Really, Really Bad Idea

What's the stupidest thing you'd do to score hits on YouTube? Swallow a heaping spoonful of dry cinnamon?

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What’s the stupidest thing you’d do to score hits on YouTube? Swallow a heaping spoonful of dry cinnamon?

It’s surely up there, as the YouTube topic “cinnamon challenge” illustrates: a catalogue of people’s farcical, mostly unsuccessful attempts to swallow a tablespoon worth of one of the world’s most popular aromatic spices, harvested from the bark of a Southeast Asian tree. Except it’s not like swallowing a spoonful of sugar — quite the opposite, in fact.

(MORE: ‘Cinnamon Challenge’ Could Cause Lasting Lung Damage)

As NPR notes, those who take the challenge — attempting to down the mouthful of cinnamon in less than 60 seconds without a liquid chaser — generally fail, sputtering, hacking and at some point expelling clouds of brown particles that hang in the air for seconds as they cough and wheeze, their eyes watering. People tend to inadvertently inhale the cinnamon, too, which can lead to pneumonia or cause actual lung damage; as NPR notes, one southeast Michigan teen suffered a collapsed lung after taking the challenge.

Yet competitive attempts to down the spice and score social networking kudos continue, prompting the American Association of Poison Control Centers to weigh in: The organization notes that in 2012, over 200 calls were placed to poison centers “concerning intentional misuse or abuse of cinnamon by teens ages 13 to 19.” From January through March 2013, the number of reported exposures stands at 20, says AAPCC.

(MORE: Paralyzed British Man Fights for the Right to Die)

While most of us enjoy cinnamon in various dishes and holiday confectionaries, taken under these conditions, it can work like a poison, leading to serious health issues. As the AAPCC notes, it can even be  life-threatening — especially for those with preexisting respiratory conditions like asthma. While not as toxic as spices like nutmeg ingested at high doses, cinnamon contains a chemical compound known as coumarin, which can affect the liver, prompting European health officials to caution against consuming cinnamon at high levels. So in case the examples of Arya Stark and a bunch of idiots on the Internet isn’t enough to dissuade you, consider yourself formally warned.

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