13-Year-Old Ohio Boy Dies After Trying The TikTok ‘Benadryl Challenge’

There are bad ideas. There are really bad ideas. And then there’s the “Benadryl Challenge,” which is a really, really, really, really bad idea. It’s also a social media challenge that’s led to the death of another person, this time a 13-year-old boy in Ohio.

Yeah, one cannot understate how bad an idea it is to keep popping this over-the-counter medication in an attempt to induce hallucinations. Typically, when someone asks you, “Should I attempt to induce hallucinations in you,” your answer should be “no.” That because hallucinations tends to be your brain’s way of saying, “Dude (or dudette), this is a bad idea.” The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already warned against doing the “Benadryl Challenge,” as I reported for Forbes on September 21, 2022The Johnson & Johnson makers of Benadryl even has a web page alerting folks about the dangers of this “online challenge” and the misuse or abuse of diphenhydramine, which is the generic name for Benadryl. Heck, there was even news back in 2020 about a 15-year old girl from Oklahoma dying after trying this challenge, as Victoria Forster reported for Forbes.

But has that stopped everyone from continuing to shove Benadryl in their mouths and film what happens as a result so that they can post it on TikTok or some other social media platform? The answer is a big, fat, “No.” This is a social media challenge that like all those auto-playing videos on the Internet just doesn’t seem to go away.

The latest victim of this ridiculous challenge was 13-year-old Jacob Stevens, who ended up ingesting 12 to 14 pills of the over-the-counter antihistamine, as detailed by Stephanie Duprey reporting for ABC6 in Columbus, Ohio. Apparently, Stevens and his friends were filming him as he attempted this “Benadryl Challenge.” Stevens began suffering seizures, was hospitalized, remained on a ventilator for nearly a week, and then eventually died. As Duprey wrote, this tragedy has already motivated Stevens’ family to do several things. One is to warn other parents to keep an eye (or multiple eyes) on what their kids are doing on social media and talk to them about it. Two is to lobby lawmakers to enact age restrictions on who can purchase medications like Benadryl. Three is to push for age restrictions on who can use social media platforms like Tik Tok.

Will the Stevens family be successful in preventing further tragedy from happening? Hopefully. But this challenge unfortunately still seems rather easy to do. Diphenhydramine is quite easy to obtain. You basically have to go to some place that sells over-the-counter medications and have some money. Heck, in theory, you could still be potty training and buy some diphenhydramine because there is no age-restrictions to purchasing this medication. Many people use diphenhydramine to treat allergy symptoms. But that doesn’t mean that you should pop it like Skittles, because you may be doing more than tasting the rainbow.

As mentioned earlier, diphenhydramine is an antihistamine, meaning that it blocks histamine receptors, specifically H1 receptors, throughout your body. Cells in your body can release the chemical histamine in your body when it believes your body is being attacked or invaded. This chemical binds the receptors, causing your blood vessels to dilate, your skin to become inflamed and swell, you to sneeze, and other reactions as defense mechanisms against potential invaders.

Now, your body and immune system isn’t always great at figuring things out. It can be a bit like someone entering an adult club for the first time and react to everything not immediately recognizable, including things that aren’t necessarily dangerous to your body such as pollen and other allergens. That’s why you get such symptoms when you have allergies. And that’s why diphenhydramine can be helpful to relive such allergy symptoms.

However, diphenhydramine, like many medications, is not without its side effects and potential dangers. The packaging warns you that diphenhydramine can make you dizzy or drowsy, which is why you should avoid operating heavy machinery after taking Benadryl. The words “sleepy” and “I’m going to do a tractor pull” shouldn’t mix. That’s even when using the medication in amounts indicated on the packaging.

When you ingest more than the recommended doses even worse things can happen. The antihistamine can cross your blood-brain barrier. At higher doses, it can block other types of receptors as well as sodium and potassium channels, you the kind that your heart depends on to keep thumping. Overdoses can lead to confusion, urinary retention, tachycardia, blurry vision, dry mouth, irritability, hallucinations, and abnormal heart rhythms. Delirium, psychosis, seizures, coma, and death can result when you consume more than a gram of diphenhydramine.

As you can see (or shouldn’t really see), hallucinations can result from an overdose of diphenhydramine. It’s a sign that something’s gone wrong. It can be a sign that even worse things are to come. There aren’t too many situations where “after I started hallucinating” is immediately followed by “all my dreams in reality were fulfilled” or “my career goals were achieved” or “we then got married and lived happily ever after.”

It’s not clear how long this “Benadryl Challenge” will continue to circulate on TikTok and other social media. It’s yet more evidence that blindly listening to stuff on social media is a bad idea, a really bad idea.

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