April 1, 2012

In a study published in the journal Pediatrics this month, researchers confirm what the mother of a 12-year-old already knew: Kids, for the most part in junior high, are still playing the choking game, and the choking game can be fatal. The researchers, based in Oregon, wanted to report on a common but little-known way for kids to get a legal high. Along with bath salts and synthetic marijuana, this legal high can result in brain damage, head trauma and death.

The choking game has been around for decades, but it may be one of those fads that skips generations. The 12-year-old’s mother hadn’t heard about it, but her own 85-year-old mother had: She remembered playing it when she was a kid. She was lucky. The day after her grandson learned the game from a schoolmate, he tried it at home. His mother says she “missed him by about 10 minutes.”

The study is one of the first to tackle the subject, and the first thing the researchers want everyone to understand is that it is no game. It works like this: A person, alone or with the help of another, strangles himself or allows himself to be strangled with a belt, rope or hands to cut off the oxygen and blood flow to the brain. The “fun” comes when the blood and oxygen rush back to the brain, triggering a euphoric high. Hyperventilating until the person passes out achieves the same results.

The organization Games Adolescents Shouldn’t Play, or GASP, has compiled data on the number of youths who have died as a result of the choking game. While no data is available for Oregon, between 1995 and 2004 Washington State logged 53 suicides and 32 accidental deaths from the choking game. Nationwide, that same period saw 650 suicides and 136 accidental deaths.

For the Pediatrics study, the researchers analyzed survey responses from about 5,400 eighth graders in Oregon to determine how prevalent the game is and what kind of kids engage in the risky behavior. They found that 6.1 percent — that is, 1 in 16 tweens or teens — had played the game at least once. Of those, 64 percent had played again after that first time, with 27 percent playing more than five times.

Who are these kids? We’ll get into that in our next post.

Source:, “Who Is Playing the Choking Game?” Carrie Gann, April 15, 2012


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