"Kids have been daring each other to do stupid stuff since the beginning of time," says Ellen Pollock at Bloomberg Businessweek. But social media has taken inane one-upmanship to a new level, making it possible to encourage people you don't even know to make fools of themselves. The latest case in point is the Cinnamon Challenge, a sometimes dangerous, frequently hilarious craze that is sweeping teen circles (watch the video below to see brave participants and their inevitable failures). Here's a primer on the fad:
What is the Cinnamon Challenge?
Those who accept the dare must fill a tablespoon with cinnamon, and swallow it within 60 seconds, without drinking anything to wash it down. Even the most confident challengers seem to end up belching clouds of cinnamon dust, gasping, and spitting up the spice.
How popular is it?
The game's been around for years, but in the YouTube era, as people have posted videos of their often amusing failures, it's reached a new level of popularity. YouTube has some 30,000 clips showing people — mostly teenagers and 20-somethings — taking the challenge. "Some [videos] are helpfully labeled: 'WARNING: PUKE,'" says Pollock at Businessweek.
So it can actually make you sick?
Absolutely. Two Detroit area teens wound up in the hospital recently after taking the Cinnamon Challenge, and the Children's Hospital of Michigan Regional Poison Control Center reported another four cases believed to be linked to the game in the last month alone. In the short term, people who take the challenge run the risk of choking or developing pneumonia. But they can also suffer long-term effects: Inhaling cinnamon dust can cause internal inflammation, lung scarring, or reduced lung capacity. Several kids who've tried it have been put on ventilators after their lungs essentially collapsed.
Does anyone ever win?
Health experts say the Cinnamon Challenge, if done by the book, is essentially impossible. Human salivary glands just aren't made to produce enough moisture to allow us to ingest that much of the powerful, powdered spice.
Why would anyone take the risk then?
Because — why else? — it offers a shot at viral-video stardom. Some of the videos have been viewed thousands, even millions, of times. Apparently, the goal isn't actually swallowing the cinnamon, says Samantha Grossman at TIME, "but rather to share your gasping, spitting, arm-waving pain with the entire internet as the spice erupts from your mouth in a wispy cloud." Given the downsides, then, you probably shouldn't "try this at home," says Linda Sharps at The Stir. "Or anywhere else, for that matter."