Energy Drinks, Cinnamon Challenge, Aerosol Cans (Nitric Oxide)

Energy Drinks, Cinnamon Challenge, and Aerosol Cans (Nitric Oxide)

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In recent years there has been a trend toward the misuse of energy boosters and cans that contain nitric oxide as a propellant (such as whip cream and other kinds of aerosol cans). Even common spices found in the kitchen, like cinnamon, have been used inappropriately and have proven to be very dangerous in some cases. Addressed here are the ways in which these items are misused and the laws and regulations that have been created concerning them. Protections should be in place, but there are only so many ways in which a person can be protected from himself or herself. Some substances are used so commonly that they cannot be banned, so the only way to protect others is to attempt to warn them about the risks. How well that works depends on the person who is provided with the information.

Energy Boosters

The use of energy boosters (or the misuse of same) is difficult to track. There are no poison control codes that are efficiently used for overuse or overdose on energy boosters, and there is more caffeine in these boosters than the limits the FDA has set for caffeine in standard drinks (Warburton, Bersellini, & Sweeney, 2001). Little research has been done on the effects of energy boosters and their misuse by individuals, making the seriousness of the problem difficult to determine in any kind of significant way. Generally, the only obvious issues that have arisen and been documented with energy boosters are from patients with eating disorders, athletes, and those who have medical problems such as diabetes and ADHD (Warburton, Bersellini, & Sweeney, 2001). People can gain weight off of these energy boosters more easily than they would expect, but that is certainly not the only problem they can face, especially if they overuse or misuse these drinks.

The taurine and guarana that are seen in energy boosters are very bad for health when they are taken in large doses, but most people who consume energy boosters either do not realize this or do not read the labels carefully enough to see what they are really putting into their bodies (Warburton, Bersellini, & Sweeney, 2001). Additionally, some energy boosters are not labeled as transparently as they should be where ingredients are concerned, and that means they have things in them of which their users may not be aware. While there are labeling requirements for these boosters just like there are with other food and drink products, there are ways to get around some of the specifics and incorporate ingredients that are labeled in “creative” ways. Energy boosters can cause withdrawal symptoms when people decide to stop using them, but continued use can cause rapid heart rate, anxiety, nervousness, increased blood pressure, and trouble sleeping, among other things (Warburton, Bersellini, & Sweeney, 2001). Beverages are the most common way these products are packaged, but there are also bars, supplements, and powders that can be taken to boost energy. They all have the same problems and similar ingredients.

Nitric Oxide and Aerosol Cans

The nitric oxide that is found in aerosol cans is being inhaled – most often by young people who are looking for a cheap, quick high. These aerosols are used as an alternative to street drugs because they are inexpensive and very easy to get access to at just about any store (Sharp & Rosenberg, 2005). Up until recently, most parents and educators were not aware that students were using aerosol cans to get high, and so they did not think anything of allowing young people to be around aerosol cans and to purchase items where aerosol was used as a propellant. Most aerosol products are not dangerous when they are used as directed, but it is the intentional misuse that poses a serious risk (Levy, et al., 2008; Sharp & Rosenberg, 2005). While it is not only young people misusing aerosol cans, the younger generations are the most at risk and the ones who are most commonly seen at medical facilities when they present with problems from the deliberate and intentional inhalation of nitric oxide from aerosol cans.

Hair sprays, air fresheners, deodorants, and cleaning products that are used around the house can all be potentially used to get high (Sharp & Rosenberg, 2005). They are usually inhaled, and sometimes heated up before inhalation. It is also not impossible for the nitric oxide to be injected, but this is less common. There are many symptoms of aerosol intoxication including disorientation, slurred speech, hallucinations, and movement disorders (Sharp & Rosenberg, 2005). People who misuse aerosols can become highly addicted to the practice and go through withdrawals when they stop. They can also have euphoria, depression, mood swings, and a high heart rate. Problems with cognitive abilities and memory are seen in users of aerosol, and brain damage can be permanent in some cases (Sharp & Rosenberg, 2005). Many patients who seek treatment for an addiction to aerosol do so to get counseling for behavioral changes (Sharp & Rosenberg, 2005).


The “cinnamon challenge” is becoming popular among young people based on a child who was dared to swallow a spoonful of cinnamon within one minute with no water. Cinnamon coats and dries out the mouth, and can cause gagging, coughing, vomiting, and choking (Painter, 2012). In more serious cases a person who tries this challenge can experience throat irritation and breathing difficulties, along with an increased risk of pneumonia (Painter, 2012). Asthmatics are particularly at risk from this practice (Painter, 2012). The danger of the cinnamon challenge is generally overlooked by young people because the idea of the challenge has become a YouTube sensation. Since it seems like a funny thing to do, it is being tried more and more often – sometimes with results that require calls to poison control as well as medical evaluation for the symptoms experienced from attempting the challenge.

Laws and Regulations

There are no laws and regulations that specifically control the items these young people are using to harm themselves. Aerosol is found in many items that can be purchased by anyone, cinnamon is used all the time in cooking, and energy boosters are some of the hottest and most popular things on the market today. Whether that is good or bad is not up for debate. What is most important is that there needs to be more public awareness of these kinds of behaviors. The schools system is a good place to start with that. YouTube videos and other Internet sites that show people engaging in these practices should be removed. Celebrities could also help spread the word, since younger people often look up to celebrities and want to emulate them. In the future, it may be possible for an 18-and-up ban to be placed on aerosol products and energy boosters, but it is very unlikely that cinnamon will ever have such a ban. Not everyone misusing any of these products is under 18, so there are no guarantees as to how well these potential guidelines would actually work.


In short, the cinnamon challenge along with the misuse of energy boosters and aerosol are all highly dangerous practices. Until the people who are engaging in them and/or are considering engaging in them realize this, though, it is likely that the practices will continue. Currently, there is no plan to ban or regulate any of the offending substances, most likely because there are very few people who are misusing these substances. No one likes to be treated like a criminal simply because they want to purchase something that is perfectly legal, so placing regulations on these kinds of items may be met with very strong resistance. If that is the case, it remains to be seen whether the bans and regulations would go through in spite of the complaints or whether public outcry would win out over safety.


Levy, H., II, M.D. Schwarzkopf, L. Horowitz, V. Ramaswamy, and K.L. Findell (2008), “Strong sensitivity of late 21st century climate to projected changes in short-lived air pollutants.” Journal of Geophysical Research, 113.

Painter, Kim. (2012). “Cinnamon challenge:” Viral videos that can make kids sick. USA Today.

Sharp, Charles W; Rosenberg, Neil L (2005). “Inhalants.” In Lowinson, Joyce H. Substance Abuse: A Comprehensive Textbook (4th ed.). Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Warburton, DM; Bersellini, E; Sweeney, E (2001). “An evaluation of a caffeinated taurine drink on mood, memory and information processing in healthy volunteers without caffeine abstinence.” Psychopharmacology, 158(3): 322 — 8.