The TikTok Trend That Has People Up in Arms at the FDA

TikTok trends come and go all the time. Some, like the Hot Girl Walk, are worth considering — they offer physical and mental health benefits.

But the latest challenge making the rounds called NyQuil Chicken has caught the attention of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and not for good reason.

Actually the FDA released a statement Earlier this month, a warning was raised about the challenge, which, as the name suggests, involves cooking chicken with the over-the-counter cough and cold medicine NyQuil.

“Boiling a drug can make it much more concentrated and change its properties in other ways,” the press release said. “Even if you don’t eat the chicken, inhaling the drug fumes from cooking could result in high levels of the drug entering your body. It could also injure your lungs.”

Healthcare Providers Unequivocally Agree: Don’t attempt this challenge.

“This is a terrible idea because medication should only be used as directed,” says Betty Choi, MD, pediatrician and author of Human Body Learning Lab.

At the same time, there was some backlash to the alert, saying it drew attention to a relatively unknown challenge.

However, doctors and psychotherapists agree that it is still important to talk about safe drug use, especially with children, adolescents and adults in their early 20s.

Read on to learn the risks, what to do if someone appears to have overdosed on NyQuil, and how to talk to young people about substance abuse.

Kelly Johnson-Arbor, MD, FACEP, FUHM, FACMT, a medical toxicologist and co-medical director at the National Capital Poison Center, explains that NyQuil consists of a combination of ingredients:

It is commonly used to help with the following symptoms:

While it can be an effective way to rid oneself of illness and allergies, there are several risks associated with misuse.

Howard Pratt, DO, behavioral health medical director at Community Health of South

According to Florida, Inc. (CHI), these risks include:

Pratt agrees with the FDA that simply heating NyQuil, even without consuming it, can make it more potent, as can Johnson-Arbor.

“As the pan is heated, alcohol and other volatile compounds present in the NyQuil will evaporate, leaving behind a concentrated amount of potentially toxic NyQuil ingredients,” Johnson-Arbor warns.

If you think someone has overdosed on NyQuil, the FDA advises calling 911 or poison control at 1-800-222-1222.

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Given the numerous risks of abusing NyQuil, particularly through cooking, what would prompt anyone to do it?

Vendors share several factors at play, particularly among teenagers and adults under 25.

brain development

Experts point out that the human brain does not fully develop until around the age of 25.

“The part of the brain that develops last is the frontal cortex, which is responsible for cognition and judgment,” notes Julian Lagoy, MD, a psychiatrist at Mindpath Health.

Young people are more likely to engage in risky behavior because their brains are still developing.

“At this point in development, they tend to take risks and participate in challenges that older people would not attempt,” says Sara Siddiqui, MD FAAP of NYU Langone Huntington Medical Group and clinical assistant professor at NYU’s Hassenfelds Children’s Hospital.

Of course, the audience on TikTok tends to be youthful.

According to 2022 PEW Research, about two-thirds of teens said they had used the platform. That means teenagers and young people are particularly at risk of benefiting from “challenge” trends like NyQuil chicken.

peer pressure

Pressure from others has long been linked to substance abuse, particularly among teenagers, but research suggests it can persist into adulthood.

A Study 2020 of 359 people aged 18 to 29 suggests that peer pressure is related to substance abuse (or not using it).

A qualitative review of 2020 of people aged 18 to 52 said peer pressure to drink alcohol could trigger feelings of isolation and a decision to give in and drink.

Choi agrees that peer pressure is a risk factor for participating in the NyQuil Chicken Challenge, especially for individuals who seek approval from others.

On social media, it seems safe

TikTok users who participate in the NyQuil challenge do not appear to suffer any negative consequences, giving others a false sense of security.

However, this sense of security may not be the only thing wrong.

“What many kids, and even adults, often don’t realize with a lot of these social media challenges is that people are faking it and not really doing what they appear to be doing,” says Pratt.

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Johnson-Arbor points out that the videos don’t typically show people eating the chicken cooked in NyQuil, although they can be edited to appear as they are. Videos can also easily avoid showing negative side effects.

Experts share the importance of discussing the NyQuil Chicken Challenge with those at risk for participation.

Parents and other trusted adults can drive these discussions, especially with teenagers and adults in their 20s.

But does mentioning the NyQuil Chicken Challenge risk drawing unnecessary attention to it? The FDA has already received some backlash for issuing an alert.

According to data TikTok gave to BuzzFeed News, there were only five searches for NyQuil Chicken prior to the alert. Since then there have been thousands.

Choi says it can be helpful to talk about substance abuse, including in general.

“Even if your child isn’t familiar with the TikTok videos, it’s a good idea to talk about drugs and drug safety,” she says.

Choi and others shared how to approach the conversation.

Model safe drug use

Aside from not participating in these challenges, adults can also serve as role models when using or administering medication to a child.

“Model reads the drug label and checks the dose,” Choi suggests. “Talk about where you store medication and why it’s a safe place to store it.”

Choi also recommends using this time to discuss the purpose of the drug.

Approaching from a place of care and respect

The “just say no to drugs” sit-down lecture given by parents as their children approach high school has changed.

Siddiqui suggests choosing a time when the young person is ready and open to conversation. Then ask open-ended questions about what they know about certain drugs and friends’ behavior.

Lagoy says it’s important to make sure the person knows why you want to keep talking about drugs — not to scare them, but to guide them.

“First tell your kids you love them, and you’re telling them that because you want them to be safe and because you love them,” says Lagoy. “When kids hear that, they’re more likely to listen to you and respect and honor your opinion.”

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Teachable moments

If your child or friend has already participated in the challenge, it’s natural to be concerned.

“I would still talk to them and be respectful to them with the goal that they don’t do it again,” says Lagoy. “Sometimes kids are more likely to do something if you anger them or humiliate them so they can become ‘rebellious.’ When you speak to your children with respect and love, they are more likely to listen and honor your judgment and wisdom.”

Try to understand why They did it, explaining the dangers and discussing better ways to assess social media challenges, e.g. B. Asking for advice from a trusted adult.

Discuss on social media

Substance abuse is part of the NyQuil Chicken Challenge. Social media is the other.

The NyQuil Chicken Challenge isn’t the first unsafe thing to pop up on TikTok, and it won’t be the last.

Pratt suggests reminding young people that not every social media video is real.

“You also want to make sure they understand that … this isn’t an example of what actually happens in the real world, where there are often real consequences,” says Pratt.

In short, the NyQuil Chicken Challenge is another example of social media rampage.

NyQuil abuse can lead to a variety of health problems, from difficulty breathing to seizures, and in some cases even death.

While the trend may have slumped prior to the FDA warning, it’s still worth discussing with young people in your life as a “teachable” moment.

You can use it as an opportunity to discuss responsible use of social media and over-the-counter medication.


Beth Ann Mayer is a New York-based freelance writer and content strategist specializing in writing on health and parenting. Her work has been published in Parents, Shape and Inside Lacrosse. She is co-founder of digital content agency Lemonseed Creative and a graduate of Syracuse University. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.