There are thousands of videos on YouTube with young people trying something called the "cinnamon challenge." People try to swallow a spoonful of cinnamon in less than a minute without any liquid. They sputter, cough and choke from the dry powder.
"If you think about it, there's nothing about this that makes people feel good, except maybe looking at the video after the fact," said Dr. Steven Lipshultz, professor of pediatrics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. "And for some, it could have short-term or even lifetime health risks."
Lipshultz is one of the authors of a study published in the latest issue of Pediatrics. He said he and other researchers noticed that as the number of videos posted online increased, so did reports to poison control centers.
"In experimental animals, it's really concerning because if some of this cellulose from cinnamon gets into the lungs, that cinnamon oil coating can continue to irritate indefinitely and lead to scarring," Lipschultz explained.
Although no studies have performed on humans, Lipschultz says he would not recommend that anyone try the challenge.
"One silly, regrettable dare as a teenager or a young adult might be associated with lifelong consequences," Lipshultz said.
Since 2011, poison control centers in Florida have seen 15 cases related to the cinnamon challenge.
“We only see people that are sick enough to go to the hospital,” said Dr. Cynthia Lewis-Younger, medical director for the Florida Poison Information Center in Tampa.
That means that many more people might be experiencing the harmful effects but not seeking medical attention.
“The important thing is for parents to acknowledge to kids that just because they see something on the Internet does not mean it's cool or it's something they should be doing,” Lewis-Younger said. “They should be very careful about taking care of themselves, because the people on the Internet don't really care."
Lewis-Younger says to call the poison control center hotline at 1-800-222-1222 for more information about the cinnamon challenge or other poison exposure.