Should you be one of those "internet" types—an avid YouTube-watcher, a Tumblr-peruser, a Facebook-scroller—and it's quite likely you are, if you've made it this far, beware: memes can be deadly.
No, you probably won't have a conniption fit from watching too many GIFs, or a stroke from scrolling through The Fat Jew's Instagram feed. But should you try to replicate some of the allegedly harmless idiocy that recurs in those slapstick videos of assorted "challenges," you might not come out alive.
The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge resulted in a few awful freak accidents (a horrific electrocution and a drowned Scottish teenager, among others), but now the infamous "cinnamon challenge" has a death count as well. It's been around for a while—my personal favorite attempt at it, by YouTube personality Glozell, was filmed some three and a half years ago—but Kentucky mother Brianna Radar is on a quest to put an end to the challenge after cinnamon-related asphyxia killed her son.
According to WLEX/WFSB, Radar's four-year-old son, Matthew, choked to death after ingesting nearly a whole container of cinnamon powder, causing his body to seize after he inhaled so much of the spice that he couldn't breathe. "He was completely healthy—no problems," Radar told the news channel. "He started choking. It was like he was having a seizure and just collapsed."
Despite being rushed to the hospital, Matthew's accidental death was confirmed an hour and a half after the incident. According to the coroner at the facility, it's not uncommon to see asphyxiation caused by inhaled cinnamon powder, which can enter the lungs and obstruct the flow of oxygen.
With cinnamon challenge videos permeating the internet at every turn, Radar is eager to make her case that the all-in-fun stunt can actually have serious consequences. In case you're not aware of the rules, the cinnamon challenge is simple: swallow a heaping spoonful of cinnamon powder within one minute without the aid of water or other drinks.
Watching smug challenge-takers wretch and cough and scramble for the milk from their fridges while tears stream down their faces does have its sadistic charm—even its own potent form of hilarity, like watching a Looney Tunes sequence unfold in real life through a grainy webcam—but that isn't to say that the participants don't seem to be in genuine states of misery.
You'll find a host of similar challenges peppered all over YouTube and other video platforms: the banana and Sprite challenge, which almost inevitably leads to vomiting; the Warhead challenge, which leaves your mouth bloody with chemical burns; and of course, loads of hot pepper challenges, which are generally marked by excessive sweating, swearing, and even puking and fainting. But for whatever reason, the cinnamon challenge seems to be the most popular. Medical Daily claims that somewhere between 40,000 and 209,000 videos exist of people piling their mouths with the spicy powder, knowing full well that are they are about to feel absolutely terrible.
There have been other warnings in the past. In 2012, the American Association of Poison Control Centers released a statement urging parents and teens to be aware of the dangers of the challenge after they began to receive hundreds of calls about it causing extreme respiratory distress. And the following year, a New York Times article cautioned readers that it can induce burns, vomiting, and even collapsed lungs.
However, Matthew's death may be the first publicly attributed to the online trend.
"Cinnamon can kill," Radar warns.