‘Benadryl Challenge’ on TikTok Is Dangerous, Experts Say

  • A challenge posted on TikTok known as the “Benadryl challenge” encourages viewers to take large doses of the antihistamine to induce hallucinations.
  • Experts say excessive doses of Benadryl can cause serious health issues, even causing death in some situations.
  • Johnson & Johnson, the manufacturer of Benadryl, has posted a warning about the challenge, and TikTok officials said they’ve been removing posts that publicize the challenge.

Taking too much Benadryl can kill you.

But some teens and children are intentionally overdosing on the over-the-counter antihistamine as part of a social media “challenge” that may have already turned deadly.

The situation has concerned officials at the Food and Drug Administration in the US and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency’s enough that they issued a warning against the “serious problems” that can occur if you ingest too much Benadryl.

The online video encourages viewers to take excessive doses of Benadryl (diphenhydramine) to induce hallucinations.

In August, a 15-year-old reportedly died after doing the “Benadryl challenge” on the short-form video platform TikTok.

A family member of Chloe Marie Phillips of Blanchard, Oklahoma, blamed the Benadryl challenge for the teen’s death in a Facebook post, which was later deleted.

“Many youth believe over-the-counter drugs, like Benadryl, are harmless. However, Benadryl, or diphenhydramine, has many side effects that can be dangerous or even fatal,” Cindy Grant, director of the Hillsborough County Anti-Drug Alliance in Florida, told Drink ‘n’ Drugs.

Previously, Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas, issued a warning to parents about the Benadryl challenge after treating three teens who overdosed on the drug in May.

One of the teens ended up in A&E after taking 14 Benadryl pills.

“It was scary. She had fractured sentences, hallucinations. Her resting heart rate was 199,” said the teen’s mother in a press statement released by Cook Children’s Medical Center. 

“As a parent, you worry about drugs and you know the signs for drug use. I never thought about having to lock up my allergy medicine. I just want other parents to know about this because it’s dangerous and I had no idea. And I’m angry. These people [on TikTok] are essentially prescribing medication without a medical degree and our kids are trusting them,” she said.

Proper Dosages

Jessica Nouhavandi, PharmD, the lead pharmacist, co-founder, and co-CEO of online pharmacy Honeybee Health, told Drink ‘n’ Drugs that the maximum 24-hour dose of Benadryl is 300 milligrams (mg). Each tablet of the drug typically contains 25 mg.

“It is dangerous to take excessive amounts of diphenhydramine as there is a long list of possible side effects that come with diphenhydramine poisoning,” Nouhavandi said. 

“In mild cases, side effects include sleepiness, dry mouth, constipation, and inability to pass urine. In severe cases, you may experience delirium, psychosis, seizures, or coma,” she said.

In the UK, the NHS has issued this guidance when it comes to taking allergy medicines which contain diphenhydramine.

“We have seen kids who overdose in suicide attempts,” Amber Jewison, a pediatric nurse practitioner at Cook Children’s Medical Center, told WFAA-TV.

“But this was different. These kids weren’t trying to harm themselves. They watched a video and it told them exactly how many milligrams to take and to see how it made them feel,” she said.

The incidents prompted Johnson & Johnson, the maker of Benadryl, to issue its own warning.

“As with any medicine, abuse or misuse can lead to serious side effects with potentially long-lasting or even life-threatening consequences,” according to a statement published on the Benadryl website. 

“We understand that consumers may have heard about an online ‘challenge’ involving the misuse or abuse of diphenhydramine. The challenge, which involves ingestion of excessive quantities of diphenhydramine, is a dangerous trend and should be stopped immediately,” it said.

The pharmaceutical company added it’s “working with TikTok and other social platforms to remove content that showcases this damaging, unhealthy and risky behaviour.”

A spokesperson for TikTok told Drink ‘n’ Drugs that the online platform removed a small amount of Benadryl challenge material in May and has continued to monitor the site for any new videos.

“As we make clear in our community guidelines, we do not allow content that encourages, promotes, or glorifies dangerous challenges that might lead to injury,” the spokesperson said.

“Though we have not seen this content trend on our platform, we actively remove content that violates our guidelines and block related hashtags to further discourage participation,” they said.

The Dangers Of Viral Crazes Or Challenges

Many of the “challenges” or “crazes” posted on the TikTok social media platform or any of the other social media platforms are lighthearted, including dance-oriented videos such as the “Savage challenge” (with instructions on learning the choreography to the Megan Thee Stallion song “Savage”) as well as exercises like the “plank challenge” and fun family activities like the “celeb lookalike challenge.”

Some even raise money for charities and organisations which can provide the charity or organisation with much needed income, however these are far and few between.

But others are darker, including the “Holocaust challenge” (where viewers are encouraged to dress up like concentration camp survivors) and the “nutmeg challenge,” which, similar to the Benadryl challenge, encourages overconsumption of the spice to cause hallucinations.

“This is not the first dangerous challenge that is widespread on TikTok, and it likely won’t be the last as risk-taking behaviours and overvaluation of peers’ opinions are developmentally normal in secondary school-aged adolescents,” Dr. Abbey Nettles, an adolescent medicine specialist at Southampton University NHS Trust in Southampton, UK, told Drink ‘n’ Drugs.

The Skull-breaker Challenge

Still Footage From Various “Skull Breaker Challenge” Videos

“TikTok is the perfect storm to splash around these unsafe practices dressed up as popular thrills which are set to catchy music, include celebrity involvement or to fit in with others which may include or revolve around peer pressure.”

“Parents need to know about this challenge, and as best as possible, try to keep upto date with new ones that arise as well. The threat to their kids’ health is very real, and that monitoring their teens’ and younger children’s social media habits is less about limiting their privacy and more about saving their lives,” Nettles said.

This challenge reared is ugly head in 2020, but is unfortunately now reappearing in greater numbers while many people find themselves to be confined at home in lockdown for the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Drink ‘n’ Drugs Viewpoint On This Issue

As with many of these fads that seem to pop up from time to time and disappear as quickly as they arrive is a challenging reason why many parents are unaware of these “challenges”, and are unable to talk to their children about them to provide education around why it isn’t safe or appropriate to try.

The newspaper The Independent reported on this issue back in September 2020 and yet, other challenges are still popping up, often with harmful, unintended consequences.

We would suggest that parents ensure that they set aside time regularly, ideally each week, every few days or even an hour every day, say, around the dinner table without distractions from gadgets to ensure that they are able to communicate with their children about their life, their interests and what’s happening in their daily life.

It’s also important for parents, guardians or carers to ensure that they are checking the news regularly, talking to other parents and generally taking an active interest in spending time with their children. If you do so regularly, you’ll soon find that not only will you learn to spot the signs of any problems that can be corrected before any negative consequences happen, but also ensure that parents and children can speak to each other freely about any worried or concerns they may have, without worrying that what they’re saying will get them into trouble.

Time is a precious commodity that many parents are short of, but it’s important that you find time, even if it’s just half an hour around a dinner table in the evening.

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Published by Drink ’n’ Drugs

Providing useful, relevant, up to date information and support for those suffering from active addiction or those who are in recovery.

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