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Medicinal Benefits of Using Activated Charcoal

Updated on April 9, 2018


What is Activated Charcoal and how does it Work?

Activated charcoal is a fine black odorless, tasteless, nontoxic powder that is made from wood and other vegetable related materials including coconut shell. The charcoal is activated when it is given an oxygen treatment, causing it to become highly porous, increasing its absorption properties. This charcoal is then used to absorb odorous substances or colored substances from gases or liquids. Charcoal is activated by simply crushing the block or piece of coal into powder.

Have you or anyone you know ever ingested a toxic substance or had a drug overdose and had to be rushed for medical aide? Chances are the arresting substance that was administered was activated charcoal. It is an emergency de-contaminant used to trap and absorb poisonous substances in the gastrointestinal tract. The tiny holes that open up in the charcoal after it is treated with oxygen increases its surface area to 300-2,000 m2/g. This allows liquids or gas to pass through the charcoal where a chemical reaction takes place. The porous carbon attracts other carbon-based impurities as the liquid or gas passes through, and traps them. This allows the carbon to absorb the impurities so that it is not passed on to the body where it would be absorbed instead.

Activated charcoal is widely regarded as the most effective agent available for this purpose, and is widely used to address almost any toxic poisoning. Just like many other medical agents, activated charcoal does have its limitations. It filters and removes certain impurities while it ignore others. There are many chemicals that are not attracted to the carbon atoms, and will filter through to the body. These include sodium and nitrates. Once the carbon activated filter is filled it will no longer be effective and must be replaced.

Other Uses of Activated Charcoal

  • Activated charcoal is used for other purposes such as:
  • Lowering cholesterol
  • Detoxification
  • Air and water filters
  • Alleviate flatulence (bloating and gas)
  • Prevent hangovers

History of Activated Charcoal in Medicine

M. Bertrand (a French chemist) was the first to perform a daring experiment on himself to demonstrate the effectiveness of charcoal to absorb poison. In 1813 he ingested a lethal dose of the poison arsenic after mixing it with activated charcoal. He survived his experiment. Professor Touery was to repeat a similar demonstration 18 years later in 1831 at the French Academy of Medicine, when in the presence of his colleagues, the professor downed a mixture of activated charcoal and 15 grams of the deadly poison strychnine. Strychnine is a poison that can be fatal to humans if ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the eyes and mouth, and can cause adverse health effects. He too survived this demonstration.


Facts about Activated Charcoal

Activated charcoal is the treatment of choice for most emergency responses to poisoning and drug overdose.

  • It is estimated that activated charcoal reduces the absorption of poisonous substances by up to 60%.
  • Activated charcoal reduces the toxicity of other chemicals by absorbing the carbon impurities in them.
  • Activated charcoal is usually administered after the stomach has been pumped. Pumping the stomach or gastric lavage is effective only if it is done immediately after the toxic substance is swallowed or within approximately one-half hour.
  • Charcoal is not digested. It stays in the GI tract and works at eliminating the toxins during a bowel movement.
  • The surface area of 50 gram of activated charcoal is equivalent to 10 football fields.
  • Activated charcoal is often mixed with sorbitol to allow it to pass through the GI system faster, and prevent constipation. Sorbitol is a laxative for stimulating bowel movements.
  • Activated charcoal also absorbs nutrients, minerals and vitamins, but this is not of a huge concern when used for short-term treatment such as poisoning.
  • Activated charcoal is widely used ii products for colon cleansing, and is available in both liquid and powder form. It must be taken with a lot of water to prevent constipation or intestinal obstruction.
  • 1 gram of activated charcoal is equivalent to approximately the size of a large pill.

Contraindications/Side Effects

  • Activated charcoal should not be administered to pregnant women or nursing mother, and elderly individuals.
  • May induce vomiting, cause diarrhea, constipation, nausea and abdominal discomfort. It can also cause the feaces to turn black.
  • Should not be used with other medicines or nutritional supplements. It can bind these substances just as it binds toxins.

Activated charcoal is no doubt a very effective powder used to combat poisoning, but it should only be administered by a doctor, and even when it is prescribed for emergency use in the home, care should be taken that the guidelines are adhered to as much as possible. The dosage is determined per individual based on factors such as weight and the amounted of poison ingested. Children are administered special doses.


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    • ohic32 profile image

      ohic32 4 years ago

      @ Sammythrone, TotalHealth and Shaddie; Thank you guys so much for stopping by to read and share your own insights on activated charcoal.

    • ohic32 profile image

      ohic32 4 years ago

      Thanks Frank. Good thing your comment caused me to check in on this hub. I apparently got busy and forgot to thank the others for stopping by to read and comment. I was pretty excited about getting HOTD.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 4 years ago from Shelton

      a very well detailed hub.. no wonder it was the hub of the day :)

    • Shaddie profile image

      Shaddie 6 years ago from Washington state

      Activated charcoal (we call it carbon) is used in fish tanks to help absorb ammonia and other harmful things in the tank. I had no idea it could be ingested to absorb poisons. Makes sense!

    • sammythrone profile image

      sammythrone 6 years ago from North America/South America/Europe/Asia


      This is a very interesting article on charcoal. When I was a little girl, I always see my granny doing slow cooking using charcoal. And in Singapore, I tasted charcoal grilled food call "Satay". But, really this is the first time I read about it as a medicine. Thanks.

    • TotalHealth profile image

      TotalHealth 6 years ago from Hermosa Beach, CA

      Nice hub! I gave my dog activated charcoal after he got into some poison. This helped because the ride to the vet was 30 minutes.

    • ohic32 profile image

      ohic32 6 years ago

      I am so thrilled to have been able to share another hub that others find very informative and helpful. Thank you all for your kind commments.

      Charcoal is truly another amazing natural material that can help us maintain a healthy lifestyle and for far less than pharmaceutical drugs.

      I have been busy, but will get around to the cosmetic use of charcoal soon. I will definately incorporate the information that was shared here in a few comments.

    • profile image

      mikeydcarroll67 6 years ago

      Interesting! I never knew charcoal could work like that!

    • Rusti Mccollum profile image

      Ruth McCollum 6 years ago from Lake Oswego, Oregon

      I take meds to lower my chloesteral everyday,I was born with a heart defect. I found this to be informative, interesting.Thankyou for bringing this to peoples attention.

    • gmwilliams profile image

      Grace Marguerite Williams 6 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

      I learned so much from this hub. Quite educational indeed. Charcoal is also used in face masks for very oily/acneic skins to purify and clear it.

    • networmed profile image

      networmed 6 years ago from SPL

      Very interesting and the facts were very informative.

    • iphone5news profile image

      iphone5news 6 years ago from NY

      Great Hub Super Informative!

    • profile image

      Deepunetfish 6 years ago

      Fantastic hub, very neatly prepared hub, kkep it up, voted up

    • iphone5news profile image

      iphone5news 6 years ago from NY

      Great read. I think activated charcoal is a fantastic means for a healthier life - especially used in water filters.

    • pandula77 profile image

      Dr Pandula 6 years ago from Norway

      Very good explanation of how to use activated charcoal. Well done!

    • profile image

      Mike 6 years ago

      Nature has a lot of medicine for man. All you got to do is look for it. Great hub!

    • profile image

      twitteringbird 6 years ago

      Good and useful information you provided.Good luck .

    • ohic32 profile image

      ohic32 6 years ago

      Burnt toast? Oh wow... Thanks for sharing that bit of information msorensson.

      TENKAY I that's interesting. This is certainly a versatile product.

      Thanks to everyone for sharing in your comments.

    • tbrian123 profile image

      tbrian123 6 years ago from colombo, Sri Lanka

      Useful article.. Voted up(Y)

    • msorensson profile image

      msorensson 6 years ago

      You could use burnt toast...

    • littlethespians profile image

      littlethespians 6 years ago from Farmville, Virginia

      Great job! And that French chemist was one brave man. Either that or insane.

    • TENKAY profile image

      TENKAY 6 years ago from Philippines

      Congratulations ohic32 for a hub well researched. I remembered my grandma using powdered charcoal (from coconut shell), wrap the powder in a clean linen and tied it around an infected leg wound. According to her, the charcoal will suck the pus out of the wound.

      This hub deserves HOTD.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 6 years ago from the short journey

      This interesting overview of activated charcoal reminds me that I want to do more reading on this topic. Am going to check on whether you have other hubs on this topic. Congrats on your Hub of the Day award, and thanks!

    • livingpah2004 profile image

      Milli 6 years ago from USA

      Congratulations on HOUTD.

    • urmilashukla23 profile image

      Urmila 6 years ago from Rancho Cucamonga,CA, USA

      Well researched and explained hub. It deserved to get Hub of the day award. Congratulations!

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 6 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Congratulations on HOTD! Very informative and interesting.

      I always wondered about that. So, if I understand correctly, it can be "activated" by the simple act of crushing it into a powder, but infusing with pressurized oxygen enhances the effects?

      I guess that rules out going out to the backyard fire pit and chomping on a hunk of burned log. (just kidding.)

      more than 10 football fields surface area?? WOW!! Mind boggling!

      Voted up, interesting, useful and shared.

    • vespawoolf profile image

      vespawoolf 6 years ago from Peru, South America

      I'd heard of charcoal being used for overdoses, but I'd never heard of its use for high cholesterol. This was a very interesting hub, thank you! Congratulations on Hub of the Day!

    • ohic32 profile image

      ohic32 6 years ago

      Pretty informative comments. I should have a look at the cosmetic properties of activated charcoal as well. Thanks to all of you for sharing.

      Thanks for the vote up Infobrowser and geetika iyer.

    • geetika iyer profile image

      geetika iyer 6 years ago from India

      Great Hub! Very informative.Voted up.

      I would like to add that activated carbon is also being used in skin care products to unclogg the pores and to draw out impurities that get under the skin.

    • Infobrowser profile image

      Infobrowser 6 years ago from UK

      Interesting read. I think activated charcoal is a fantastic means to a healthier life, especially when used in water filters because of the amount of unwanted properties they remove. Voted up!

    • snlee profile image

      snlee 6 years ago from Asia Pacific Regions

      Very useful information...All the while I thought charcoal is linked to carbon monoxide. Now I am less worried about using charcoal for barbecue. Thanks

    • greatstuff profile image

      Mazlan 6 years ago from Malaysia

      Congrats on HOTD and good luck in the contest. Being selected for HOTD will put you in the top listing!

    • Dr Kavita Shaikh profile image

      Dr Kavita Shaikh 6 years ago from MUSCAT

      Congrats on being HOTD! Great detailed info on activated charcoal.It sure is an emergency medicine in poisoning. Another use of activated charcoal is to soak up impurities from water and also from our skin (many cosmetics use it, especially the cleansers and face washes)

    • ohic32 profile image

      ohic32 6 years ago

      Hub of the Day!!!! I'm so excited yeeeaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!.

      Thanks to you all for your kind comments. I am happy you find the hub interesting and informative.

      Raakachi I will do some research on that and add what I find.

      Special thanks once again to Em_saenz for posting an inspiring question, and thanks to the HubPages team as well.

    • My Nurse Says profile image

      My Nurse Says 6 years ago from Philippines

      Very informative and useful hub. Serves well to educate readers more the uses activated charcoal and how they could actually save a life with the application of this knowledge. Thumbs up!

    • raakachi profile image

      raakachi 6 years ago from Madurai / Tamilnadu / India

      Very informative! Suppose if anybody has been affected by toxin, shall we use it as raw for emergency purpose? would you please mention the types of poison to which it could be used as emergency measure. voted as useful.

    • Emma Harvey profile image

      Emma Kisby 6 years ago from Berkshire, UK

      I saw this question and was intrigued to know the answer. Great information - congrats on your hub of the day!

    • ohic32 profile image

      ohic32 6 years ago

      You are welcome and thanks for posting an interesting question. Thanks also for the best wishes and I wish the same for you.

    • em_saenz profile image

      em_saenz 6 years ago from Europe

      Thank you so much fro answering. Good luck in the contest