ST. LOUIS (CBS ST. LOUIS) — The “choking game” has sparked a social media craze with teenagers posting photos and videos of people choking themselves for a brief high that causes people to pass out – or in some cases, causes death.

Thousands of Facebook and Twitter users have revived “The Choking Game” – a thrill-seeking activity that involves strangulation and often fainting in order to induce a temporary feeling of euphoria caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain. Also called the “fainting game,” the oxygen deprivation causes grey-outs that some have deemed near-death experiences. The hashtags of #thechokinggame and #passoutchallenge have revived the social media trend.

Medical professionals told KTVI-TV that teens cause the self-induced hyperventilation in order to achieve an adrenaline rush.

“Basically what they’re accomplishing is they’re starving their brain for oxygen. In the scenario with the video, the children will hyperventilate which will decrease the CO2 in the blood and the CO2 is the gas that causes the brain to breathe,” Dr. Matt Bruckel of Total Access Urgent Care told KTVI. “And when you drop it down so low, the oxygen in the blood will drop down faster than the CO2 will rise so they’ll develop cerebral hypoxia, which is a condition in which the brain doesn’t have enough oxygen because the triggers for breathing and ventilation are gone.”

Some taking part in the “choking game” died as a result of the strangulation game. One such case is that of 14-year-old Troy Zalaback, whose death five years ago was first classified by police as a suicide until investigators found that the last thing Zalaback had searched on his phone and computer were instructions regarding the choking game.

Several memorial Facebook pages exist for deaths caused as a result of the choking game. The Gabriel Crumb memorial page features a community plea to end the “horrific game” that ended the 12-year-old’s life in January 2013.

A new Lifetime movie about the choking game has sparked much of the resurgent discussion.

Based on the book “Choke” by Diana Lopez, “The Choking Game” Lifetime movie description reads: “Taryn finds herself gaining much-desired popularity when the charismatic new girl at school claims her as a ‘breath sister,’ teaching Taryn about the Choking Game. Hiding it from her ever-present mother, best friend, and teachers, Taryn sees choking as a way to build self-control and grab an easy high. But, as the stakes are raised through each subsequent ‘flight’, Taryn has no idea that she is actually putting her life in extreme danger.”

Several videos posted online show teens choking each other in a contest to see who will collapse first. One video shows two girls pinned up against a wall as two people push against their chest and necks until one of them faints and crumples to the ground.

Benjamin Fearnow


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