Ground cloves, cloves ground cinnamon, along with cinnamon sticks. (Kirk McCoy )
A word of a warning to parents of adolescents, from the nation's poison centers: Yes, you've secured your medicine chest and your liquor cabinet; but a new thrill-seeking activity among teens might make you consider locking away the cinnamon shaker as well.
In the first three months of 2012, the nation's poison centers have had 139 calls -- close to three times as many as were received in all of 2011 -- seeking help and information about the intentional misuse of cinnamon. At least 122 of those calls arose from something called the "cinnamon challenge" -- a game growing in popularity among teens in which a child is dared to swallow a spoonful of ground or powdered cinnamon without drinking any water.
As cinnamon coats and dries the mouth and throat, coughing, gagging, vomiting and inhaling of cinnamon ensues, leading to throat irritation, breathing difficulties and risk of pneumonia, says Dr. Alvin C. Bronstein, medical and managing director of Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center. For teens who suffer from asthma, the "cinnamon challenge" can be particularly risky, because they can develop shortness of breath.
Of the 139 calls received so far this year by poison control centers, 30 required medical evaluation.
What started kids abusing the contents of the kitchen's little bear shaker? Look no further than the Internet: Videos posted there are helping spread word of the cinnamon challenge.
"We urge parents and caregivers to talk to their teens about the cinnamon challenge, explaining to their teens that what may seem like a silly game can have serious health consequences," said Bronstein.
The latest warning comes out of the American Assn. of Poison Control Centers' National Poison Data System, which collects data on some 2 million calls made to poison control lines across the country each year, providing early warning of dangerous trends.