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05-13-13 What is the 'Cinnamon Challenge?'

Question of the Week

May 13, 2013

What is the “Cinnamon Challenge”?

The Cinnamon Challenge is a popular dare to swallow a tablespoon of ground cinnamon in 60 seconds without drinking fluids.  It is almost impossible to do.  Just watch some of the videos where people attempt the cinnamon challenge on www.cinnamonchallenge.com. Some of the videos have been viewed more than 19 million times.  The cinnamon challenge has led to dozens of calls to poison centers, ED visits, and hospitalizations (for adolescents requiring ventilator support).  Google hits on this topic were 0.2 million in 2009, 0.9 million in 2010, 2 million in 2011 and 2.4 million in the first half of 2012.

Cinnamon is a caustic powder composed of cellulose fibers which are not biodegradable. Aspiration is the main concern when one attempts to swallow dry cinnamon.  Cinnamon inhalation causes pulmonary inflammation and aspiration pneumonia.  Cinnamon is also an allergen and can trigger an asthma attack.  Cinnamon does not have the same hallucinogenic properties as nutmeg, thus ingesting a large dose of cinnamon only incurs risk with no “benefits”. Treatment is purely supportive.

Of note, this practice was popular with adolescents in the 90s-some things never change.

This question prepared by:  Donna Seger, MD  Medical Toxicologist