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The potentially lethal Choking Game, which involves cutting off the blood supply to the brain, appears to be popular with some college students who think it’s not as dangerous as using illicit drugs.

By BONNIE ROCHMAN | @brochman | January 20, 2012 |

College students aren’t necessarily renowned for their good judgment, and a new study reinforces that, finding that nearly one in seven co-eds has played the Choking Game, which is every bit as dangerous as it sounds.

Also called the Fainting Game, Pass Out, or Space Monkey, the Choking Game can be played individually or in groups. It consists of manually choking yourself or others, sticking a plastic bag over the head, tying a string around the neck or hyperventilating, all in search of a few seconds of euphoria.

Researchers at The Crime Victims’ Institute at Sam Houston State University surveyed 837 students at a Texas university and found that the behavior, which works by cutting off blood flow to the brain in order to induce a high, was frighteningly commonplace:

  • 16% of students said they’d played the game, and three-quarters more than once
  • On average, students first played the game at age 14
  • Males were more likely to have played than females
  • 90% of students who had played the game learned about it from friends, and most students said they first played in a group

Why in the world would kids engage in this potentially deadly behavior? In a word, curiosity. They may also not realize it has the potential to be just as deadly as illegal drugs. The good news is that learning that a number of teens and college students have suffocated to death from playing the Choking Game helped deter students from playing. Parents, talk to your kids. And schools can play a role too: related research found that 90% of parents think that including information about the dangers of the game in school health and drug prevention classes is a smart idea.

MORE: For Teens Who Cut, Going Online Can Sometimes Help

As the study notes:

“This ‘game,’ as it is often called, does not require obtaining any drugs or alcohol, is free, and can go undetected by many parents, teachers, physicians, and other authority figures. Most importantly, many of those who engage in this activity, do not understand that the practice can be just as deadly as the illegal substances youth have been warned against.”

Bonnie Rochman is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @brochman. You can also continue the discussion on TIME‘s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.