A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, Mary Poppins famously sang, but a spoonful of cinnamon can cause dangerous side effects.
That is the warning from concerned parents, school administrators and medical experts alike in response to the "Cinnamon Challenge," a game challenging people to swallow a teaspoon of cinnamon without water in 60 seconds.
The game has gone viral, spurred on by teens uploading thousands of videos on YouTube and Facebook showing them gagging, choking and spitting while trying to complete the challenge.
Doctors say the challenge is impossible because the cinnamon cannot be digested without water and warn that by inhaling the cinnamon dust teens run the risk of inflaming or scarring their lungs.
"If you have some fine particles, like cinnamon in your lungs, it may be hard to clear out," said Dr. Robert Zaid of Providence Hospital in Mobile, Ala. "Your lungs can kind of collapse on you. There have been several cases reported where kids needed ventilator support because they weren't able to maintain their airway."
In Michigan school administrators are sending advisories to parents alerting them to the dangers the challenge could pose to their children after four apparently related cases were reported to the Children's Hospital of Michigan Regional Poison Control Center in the last month alone, according to the Detroit News.
Dejah Reed, a freshman at Huron High School in Ann Arbor, Mich., spent four days in the hospital with an infection and a collapsed right lung after she ingested cinnamon two week ago.
"She was going in and out of consciousness. She couldn't breathe. She was turning pale," her father, Fred Reed, told local affiliate WXYZ. "I hope parents and kids learn that it's not fun and games. She could have died."
Even a site devoted to the challenge, Cinnamonchallenge.com, has this disclaimer prominently displayed on its homepage, "DO NOT ATTEMPT THE CINNAMON CHALLENGE WITHOUT TALKING WITH A DOCTOR. OBVIOUSLY THEY ARE GOING TO TELL YOU NOT TO DO IT. THE CINNAMON CHALLENGE CAN BE DANGEROUS AND SHOULDN'T BE TAKEN LIGHTLY. YOU NEVER WANT TO PURPOSELY OR MISTAKINGLY INHALE ANY SUBSTANCES SUCH AS CINNAMON. IT'S GOING TO BURN, YOU ARE GOING TO COUGH, AND REGRET YOU TRIED…SO WATCH MOVIES OF PEOPLE ALREADY FEELING THE PAIN."
Despite the serious health risks the game has been popularized by athletes and even a politician.
In November, during the NBA lockout, basketball stars Nick Young and JaVale McGee attempted the cinnamon challenge in a YouTube video that has been viewed more than 100,000 times and posted on ESPN.com. In February Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn took the challenge while appearing on a talk radio show, though he drank water to get it down.
Medical experts like Dr. Zaid are echoing school administrators in advising parents to warn their children that attempting viral, online dares like the "Cinnamon Challenge" could land them in the hospital, according to WXYZ.