Cinnamon, nutmeg and marshmallow games 'dangerous and stupid'

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 9:17 AM

Jamie Lampros, Standard-Examiner Correspondent

Keep an eye on your spice rack.

Cinnamon, nutmeg and marshmallows have been providing more than just great taste lately. According to the American Association of Poison Control Center’s National Poison Data System, they are also being used by teenagers to play risky games.

The number of calls to poison centers last year regarding intentional misuse or abuse by teens totaled 222. From January to November 2013, there were 50 calls reported to poison control centers.

Northern Utah emergency rooms haven’t seen a trend so far, but they are seeing a few cases.

According to the Utah Poison Control Center, the “Cinnamon Challenge” usually starts with teenagers daring one another to swallow a spoonful of powdered cinnamon without drinking any water. The loose, dry spice coats the mouth and throat, causing gagging, vomiting, coughing and choking, as well as throat irritation.

Some people have experienced trouble breathing, especially those with asthma and other respiratory conditions. Hundreds of videos and postings on the Internet have made it a social media sensation.

“Although cinnamon is a common flavoring, swallowing a spoonful may result in unpleasant effects that can pose a health risk,” said Dr. Alvin C. Bronstein, managing and medical director for the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center.

“The concern with the Cinnamon Challenge is that the cinnamon quickly dries out the mouth, making swallowing difficult. As a result, teens who engage in this activity often choke and vomit, injuring their mouths, throats and lungs. Teens who unintentionally breathe the cinnamon into their lungs also risk getting pneumonia as a result.”

Kids are also snorting, smoking and eating large quantities of nutmeg to produce a marijuana-like high, according to the AAPC. The spice contains the hallucinogenic myristicin.

The Utah Poison Control Center for Health Professionals states nutmeg’s adverse effects include anxiety, dizziness, confusion, headache, hallucinations, seizures, stupor, nausea, vomiting, excessive thirst, double vision, chest pressure, numbness, coma and death. In pregnant women, the spice has been known to induce abortion.

The synthetic marijuana called spice, or K2, also is very popular right now because it can’t be detected in standard drug tests.

“It can contain dangerous chemicals that can create permanent brain damage or irreversible psychosis. Dying is a definite possibility when it comes to experimenting with spice,” said Lakeview Hospital emergency department director Bernadette Waldrop.

“The toxic effects can be variable, depending on what ends up being added to the spice. It has the potential for containing carcinogenic chemicals, which have disastrous effects on the brain, cardiovascular system, kidneys. It can completely mess up your body. Our recommendation? Don’t even try it. The result of using spice is equivalent to receiving a piece of coal for Christmas, except that its effects are permanent in your body.”

Chubby Bunny is another popular game being seen in emergency rooms and on YouTube. Kids stuff as many marshmallows in their mouth as possible and then try to say “Chubby Bunny.” Two children have died from playing this game, said Dr. Christina Hantsch, a toxicologist in the department of emergency medicine at Loyola University Health System and former director of Illinois Poison Control.

Deanna Wolfe, Ogden Regional Medical Center’s trauma nurse coordinator, said kids should avoid playing these games and messing around with spices inappropriately. She said it’s dangerous and it’s stupid.

“The envelope is always being pushed to create something new that will get attention, potentially create a drug-like effect and can pass under the radar of law enforcers,” said Hantsch, in a news release issued by AAPC.

Respiratory, cardiac and nerve damage have been documented in relation to substance abuse by users.

“Seemingly silly games can have sinister effects, and the holidays are the worst time for this to happen,” Hantsch said. “Kids have more free time, greater access to the Internet and more opportunities to get together during vacations. And at Christmas, the kitchen pantry is loaded for holiday baking. Adults are wise to keep an eye on their children to make sure they are using the ingredients for their proper use.”

The number to the Utah Poison Control Center is 800-222-1222.

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