WEDNESDAY, Dec. 26, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Some common holiday baking ingredients -- such as cinnamon, nutmeg and marshmallows -- can be abused and lead to serious health problems and even death, an expert warns.
Doctors at Loyola University Health System's emergency department recently treated a group of 9-year-olds who tried something called the Cinnamon Challenge. There are hundreds of videos and postings on the Internet about this dangerous activity, which involves trying to swallow one tablespoon of ground cinnamon without water.
"The dry, loose cinnamon triggers a violent coughing effect and also a burning sensation that actually can lead to breathing and choking hazards," Dr. Christina Hantsch, a toxicologist in the department of emergency medicine, said in a Loyola news release.
In 2011, U.S. poison centers received 51 calls about teen exposure to cinnamon, the release noted. There were 139 such calls in the first three months of 2012. Of those, 122 were classified as intentional misuse or abuse and 30 of the teens required medical evaluation, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.
Hantsch said she is concerned that this type of activity among teens is now being copied by younger children.
Another potentially dangerous fad is called Chubby Bunny.
"You stuff as many marshmallows in your mouth as possible and then try to say the words 'chubby bunny,'" Hantsch said. "Two children have actually choked to death attempting this game so it is not to be taken lightly."
Some young people snort, smoke or eat large quantities of ground nutmeg in order to get a marijuana-like high. "Nutmeg contains myristicin, which is a hallucinogenic, like LSD," Hantsch explained.
Other common household products that are abused by youngsters include hand sanitizer, aerosol whipped cream, aerosol cooking spray, ink markers and glue.
"Seemingly silly games can have sinister effects and the holidays are the worst time for this to happen," Hantsch said. "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."
The American Academy of Pediatrics outlines what parents can do to prevent substance abuse by their children.