Teen dies after trying viral TikTok ‘Benadryl challenge’: What parents should know

FDA warns against taking more than recommended dose

The “Benadryl challenge’ isn’t a new thing on social media, but it’s been recirculating in recent months, and it resulted in the death of a 13-year-old boy from Ohio.

In short, the TikTok trend challenges teens to take about a dozen Benadryl to trigger a hallucinations.

Ohio teen Jacob Stevens ended up on a ventilator for almost a week before he died, according to his family. Jacob’s grandmother told WSYX that she’d do anything to make sure no other child or family has to go through what they went through.

The FDA warns taking a higher-than-recommended dose of diphenhydramine (Benadryl), available over-the-counter, can lead to serious heart problems, seizures, coma, or even death, also reporting the agency was “aware of news reports of teenagers ending up in emergency rooms or dying after participating in the “Benadryl Challenge” encouraged in videos posted on the social media application TikTok.”

In 2020, the FDA warned about the TikTok trend, which took off while kids were home during the COVID-19 pandemic:

Consumers, parents, and caregivers should store diphenhydramine and all other OTC and prescription medicines up and away and out of children’s reach and sight. FDA recommends you lock up medicines to prevent accidental poisonings by children and misuse by teens, especially when they are home more often due to the COVID-19 pandemic and may be more likely to experiment.

The FDA added: Always read the Drug Facts label included on all OTC medicines to find out if they contain diphenhydramine, how much and how often you should take them, and important safety information. Do not take more than the dose listed on the label, as doing so can cause serious problems. If someone takes too much diphenhydramine and is hallucinating, can’t be awakened, has a seizure, has trouble breathing, or has collapsed, immediately get medical attention or contact poison control at 1-800-222-1222 or online.

Diphenhydramine is an antihistamine used to temporarily relieve symptoms due to hay fever, upper respiratory allergies, or the common cold, such as runny nose and sneezing. It works by blocking histamine in the body, which is a substance that causes allergic symptoms. When used as recommended, it is a safe and effective medicine. Diphenhydramine is marketed under the brand-name Benadryl, store brands, and generics. It is also available in combination with pain relievers, fever reducers, and decongestants.

The company Benadryl also issued a statement on the trend:

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. BENADRYL products and other diphenhydramine products should only be used as directed by the label.

Collaboration and education are critical to putting an end to this dangerous misuse. We are working with TikTok and other social platforms to remove content that showcases this behavior. We will look to partner across industry and with key stakeholders to address this dangerous behavior.

TikTok told CNN, in a statement, that they actively remove content he promote dangerous behavior, and encourage people to report any content or accounts they seen spreading dangerous information.

A funeral for Jacob is planned for Wednesday in near Columbus.

About the Authors:

Ken Haddad has proudly been with WDIV/ClickOnDetroit since 2013. He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter and various other newsletters, and helps lead the WDIV Insider team. He's a big sports fan and is constantly sipping Lions Kool-Aid.

Dr. McGeorge can be seen on Local 4 News helping Metro Detroiters with health concerns when he isn't helping save lives in the emergency room at Henry Ford Hospital.