More and more thrill-seeking teens looking for creative ways to get cheap, legal highs from common holiday spices are winding up in the hospital with respiratory, cardiac and nerve damage, toxicologists warn.
Experts say that baking ingredients like cinnamon, nutmeg and even marshmallows are among the primary ingredients used in trendy risky behavior in kids.
"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," Dr. Christina Hantsch, a toxicologist at the Department of Emergency Medicine at Loyola University Health System said in a statement.
Hantsch said dozens of pre-teen children have recently been taken to Loyola's emergency room after abusing holiday spices.
One popular thrill-seeking behavior made popular by hundreds or videos and postings on the Internet is the Cinnamon Challenge in which kids try to swallow a tablespoon of ground cinnamon without water. Experts say that the dry loose cinnamon then triggers a violent coughing effect and burning sensation that can lead to breathing and choking hazards.
Poison centers received 51 calls about teens exposed to cinnamon in 2011, but the number of young people trying the Cinnamon Challenge quickly exploded after poison centers received 139 calls in the first three months of 2012.
According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, 122 of the calls were classified as intentional misuses or abuse and 30 of the callers needed medical evaluation.
Experts worry that more vulnerable younger children are now attempting to copy the risky behaviors of older teenagers.
"They have easy access to ingredients like cinnamon and marshmallows and think it is cool to do what their older peers are doing," Hantsch said.
Experts say that another trendy behavior that continues to attract thrill-seekers is called Chubby Bunny.
You stuff as many marshmallows in your mouth as possible and then try to say the words Chubby Bunny," explained Hantsch, warning that two children have choked to death after attempting this challenge.
Young people are also snorting, smoking and eating large quantities of ground nutmeg to get a marijuana-like high.
"Nutmeg contains myristicin which is a hallucinogenic, like LSD," Hantsch said. Other common household products kids are also using to get a temporary high include hand sanitizer, aerosol whipped cream, aerosol cooking spray, ink markers and glue.
Hantsch warns that respiratory, cardiac and nerve damage have all been documented in people using seemingly harmless ingredients to get high.
"Seemingly silly games can have sinister effects and the holidays are the worst time for this to happen," Hantsch concluded. "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."