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TikTok’s ‘sleepy chicken challenge’ has users marinating the meat in cough syrup. Why?

By Alma Fabiani

Jan 17, 2022

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A recent TikTok trend called the ‘sleepy chicken challenge’, also referred to as ‘NyQuil chicken’, has led to many users on the platform cooking chicken meat in the liquid form of NyQuil—a syrup used to treat cold and flu symptoms. A common over-the-counter medication, NyQuil is known to cause drowsiness in addition to helping alleviate a fever, stuffy nose and cough. So, why are people marinating their meat in cough syrup, and what are the dangers that come with doing so?

In a TikTok video posted by Rob Flo back in September 2020, which now has over 4.7 million views, the user is seen pouring some NightTime—an alternative similar to NyQuil—on chicken, explaining in the voice-over that his wife had recently gotten sick and that he had previously used this ‘magic remedy’. “Sometimes the steam really makes you sleepy,” Flo stated in the now-viral clip.

Nearing the end of the video, the narrator said, “What you are looking for is that blue colour.” Once done with his cooking, Flo poured the remaining medication from the pan back into the original bottle. Looking at the rest of the creator’s content, one could assume that this concoction was shared with the only aim of going viral—and not to truly cure his wife of a cold. But the damage had already been done.

Shortly after this first video was shared, the hashtags #SleepyChicken and #NyQuilChicken started picking up on the video-sharing platform. While the latter has been banned from TikTok since then, videos of the challenge can still easily be found by looking up ‘NyQuil chicken’ on the app’s search bar.

Trying their hand at the ‘cooking’ trend, some users have shared their own version of the dish, switching Flo’s sizzling pan for a boiling pot. Others can be seen doing something similar with whole chickens instead of just the breasts.

In case you weren’t sure by now, cooking anything in any kind of cough syrup is an extremely bad idea. Not only will your food taste awfully bad, but boiling off the water in a medication could make it much more concentrated and thus raise the risk of an overdose. That’s where things get tricky.

“The risks of an overdose depend on what specific ingredients are in the medicine,” Forbes reported when covering the trend. Yes, different cold and cough medications tend to have different ingredients, but they also always have common active ingredients such as dextromethorphan, acetaminophen, and antihistamines like doxylamine succinate. Too much dextromethorphan, which is an opioid that’s commonly in cough suppressants, can result in “drowsiness, dizziness, seizures, nausea, vomiting, changes in blood pressure, constipation, breathing problems, blurry vision, twitching, palpitations, high fevers, hallucinations, brain damage, and even coma,” the publication listed.

Too much acetaminophen can damage your liver and lead to liver failure while too much doxylamine succinate can result in dry mouth, dilated pupils, rhabdomyolysis, insomnia, night terrors, hallucinations, seizures, and death. Oh and also, too much of any of these can even lead to death. I bet blue chicken doesn’t sound so fun now, right?

Doctor Aaron Hartman, a physician and assistant clinical professor of family medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), told MIC, “When you cook cough medicine like NyQuil, you boil off the water and alcohol in it, leaving the chicken saturated with a super concentrated amount of drugs in the meat.”

As if all of these weren’t enough, the trend presents even more risks for whoever in your friend group decides to be the cursed chef, as inhaling vapours of the syrup is essentially taking the syrup. In other words, you have no way of controlling how much medication is making it into your body. This in turn can make overdosing even more likely. Remember how teenagers were once robotripping on cough syrup in the pursuit of cheap highs? NyQuil chicken is basically what happens when they jump on culinary trends within the confines of their own homes.

The challenge is not the first nor the last dangerous (and even deadly) trend to appear online. The Tide Pod challenge probably comes to mind, followed by a swarm of newer harmful ones. As new as this specific challenge might seem, it actually wasn’t invented on TikTok. Its history as a meme and a YouTube trend dates back to as early as 2017, when Twitter user @trjstn tweeted an image of a few NyQuil bottles next to greenish-coloured pieces of chicken with the joke caption, “If she makes you NyQuil chicken…. do NOT let her go.”