Mocking people with disabilities. Holocaust “challenges.” Live suicide. And now, the “Benadryl Challenge” — just one of the latest tastelessly disturbing trends on video-sharing app TikTok. The challenge encourages teens to use the common allergy medicine to get high and then post a video of their “trip.”
In May, three teens from Texas were hospitalized for Benadryl overdoses. One of the teens took 14 of the allergy pills — the daily recommended dose is one to two tablets every four to six hours, no more than six times in 24 hours. She was admitted to hospital with an alarming heart rate. All three said they got the idea from TikTok videos that claimed they could hallucinate if they took a dozen or more pills.
It’s “basically the shi**iest buzz imaginable,” tweeted Dr. David Juurlink, the head of the Division of Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, describing serious side effects of taking too much Benadryl as excessive sleepiness — maybe even coma — confusion, agitation, blurred vision, dry eyes and mouth, inability to sweat or pass urine, elevated body temperature and constipation.
He also highlighted a case study of a woman who ended up in the hospital with active seizures caused by a Benadryl — also known as diphenhydramine — overdose.
Most worrying is the risk of death.
“The scariest effects involve the heart,” Juurlink tweeted. “At high doses, Benadryl interferes with the heart’s ability to conduct signals and pump properly… People die from this.”
Unfortunately, this was the case for an Oklahoma teen who reportedly died from partaking in the popular challenge.
Johnson & Johnson, the manufacturer of Benadryl, said the challenge is “extremely concerning, dangerous and should be stopped immediately.”
“As with any medicine, abuse or misuse can lead to serious side effects with potentially long-lasting consequences, and Benadryl products should only be used as directed by the label,” a company spokesperson told Healthing. “We are working with TikTok and our partners to do what we can to stop this dangerous trend, including the removal of content across social platforms that showcase this behaviour.”
Anyone who understands the dangers of too much Benadryl — categorized as an H1 antihistamine because it blocks the histamine receptors that cause an allergic reaction — would not take on the viral video challenge, tweeted Juurlink, stressing that just because a medication doesn’t need a prescription, doesn’t mean it’s safe. In fact, in 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported almost 9,000 cases of adverse drug reactions to H1 antihistamines in children, including 400 deaths — almost half of which involved Benadryl-type medications.
It’s not the first time the risks of Benadryl have been in the news. Last November, the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (CSACI) released a position statement warning against the allergy drug as a first-line treatment in adults and children, saying that it’s not only less effective than newer alternatives, but also less safe, questioning its over-the-counter availability. The statement noted that the drug was introduced in the 1940s, before current safety guidelines were put in place. Despite this, Benadryl was the most recommended antihistamine for kids in each of the past seven years.
Even at prescribed doses, medications like Benadryl, which treat symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, insect bites, and hives, are associated with sedation, cognitive impairment, and memory problems. Children can also experience an opposite reaction that makes them hyper, while elderly people can get delirious.
Sadly, the “Benadryl challenge” is only the latest TikTok trend that encourages dangerous behaviour. In the “Nutmeg challenge,” TikTok users drink two to four tablespoons of nutmeg with milk or water and then post their reactions online. The goal is to get high from the spice; one to four teaspoons is enough to have harmful intoxication effects.
And while a spice may seem harmless,research shows that too much nutmeg can result in poisoning, and serious side effects like urinary retention, tremor and seizure. A U.K. report on accidental nutmeg intoxication found that overdosing on the spice can cause acute psychotic episodes, detachment from reality, and hallucinations.
So what can parents do to help their teens understand the risks of these dangerous TikTok challenges? The Canadian Centre for Child Protection (CCCP) encourages parents to stay up-to-date on viral trends and talk to their kids about the dangers. CCCP’s website offers a parent page which reviews TikTok privacy settings, how to report inappropriate content and behaviour, and other online safety resources. There is also a link to the app’s top 10 safety tips.
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