The Ultimate Guide to Drinking Activated Charcoal


Activated charcoal is often used for medical purposes, in the case of drug overdose, or the ingestion of a poison or other harmful substance. Because it absorbs toxins readily, it is the treatment of choice in hospitals for cases such as this.

Activated charcoal is made up of small black beads and it can appear like a solid black porous sponge. It is used in many applications, such as water filters, medicines that can remove toxins from the body, and in chemical purification processes.

Activated charcoal is carbon that has been treated with oxygen. The oxygen makes the carbon into a very porous charcoal. The tiny holes in the charcoal allow liquids or gases to pass through the charcoal and to interact with the carbon.

The carbon can adsorb a huge range of impurities, contaminants, toxins, and poisons, such as chlorine, and odours. Some substances like sodium, fluoride, and nitrates, are not able to be filtered out. The impurities are chemically binded to the charcoal, and there are only so many active absorption sites in the charcoal which eventually become filled. The charcoal then needs to be filtered or replaced because it will become less effective.  

What can the charcoal filter?

common everyday use for activated charcoal is to filter water 1 - The Ultimate Guide to Drinking Activated Charcoal

A common everyday use for activated charcoal is to filter water. It improves the clarity of water, gets rids of odours, and removes chlorine. It can’t, however, remove some toxic compounds, high levels of heavy metals, fluoride, or some other pathogens. There is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that it can remove alcohol from the body, but research has shown that it is not very effective for this.

It will filter:

Chlorine

Chloramine

Tannins

Phenol

Some drugs

Hydrogen sulphide and other volatile compounds that cause odours

Small amounts of metals, such as iron, mercury, and copper

It won’t get rid of:

Ammonia

Nitrates

Nitrites

Fluoride

Sodium

Large amounts of heavy metals, iron, or copper

Large amounts of hydrocarbons or petroleum distillates

Bacteria, viruses, and other similar organisms

How does it work?

Activated charcoal has the ability to attract other substances to its surface and hold them there, which is what makes it so effective at binding harmful substances, and eliminating them from the body. It can actually absorb thousands of times its own weight. Just a teaspoon of charcoal has a surface area of more than 10,000 square feet.

Research has found many benefits of activated charcoal, including the ability of charcoal to be used to draw poisons out of the skin via the use of a charcoal poultice or compress. Research has also found that the healing of wounds can be sped up by application of charcoal compresses to the skin.  

History of the use of activated charcoal

Ancient Egyptian doctors, as well as Hippocrates himself, advocated the use of activated charcoal for ridding the body of unwanted substances. The North American Indians used it to relieve pains from the buildup of gas in the gut and to treat skin infections, ease inflammation and treat bruising.

The benefits of activated charcoal

The benefits of activated charcoal

Activated charcoal powder is a powerful and unique substance, and it absorbs more harmful substances than any other substance on the planet. Here are just some of its known benefits:

It can absorb harmful substances such as lead, strychnine, DDT, many drugs, including cocaine, iodine, penicillin, aspirin, and barbiturates, and substances such as chlorine, lead, and mercury.

Activated charcoal can adsorb thousands of times its own weight in gases, heavy metals, poisons, and other harmful substances. It binds them and makes them ineffective. This is the reason that you will see many hospitals using activated charcoal in cases of poisoning or drugs overdose.

It can adsorb intestinal gas and neutralise malodorous gases. A research study found that activated charcoal powder reduces the amount of gas produced in the gut by eating beans and other gas-forming foods.

Activated charcoal helps to cleanse the digestive tract and mouth, which means that it can also be used to get rid of bad breath.

It can help to relieve the symptoms of nervous diarrhoea, traveller’s diarrhoea, spastic colon, indigestion, and peptic ulcers. If you suffer from these problems, take 1-1 1/2 tablespoons of powdered activated charcoal up to 3 times a day. Food can reduce its effectiveness however, so take it in between meals. Mix the charcoal with a glass of water, or with a spoonful of olive oil.

Activated charcoal powder can counteract the effects of poison gases and it was actually used in gas masks in World War 1.

It can help to heal wounds. If used in a poultice or pack, it can help to dry out a wound, get rid of bacteria and toxins, and any odour which might result from an infected wound.

When used as a poultice it is an excellent treatment for mushroom poisoning, insect stings, black widow bites, and some types of snake bites.

It is used to purify water, air, and food, for its ability to remove impurities.

Medical use of activated charcoal

Medical use of activated charcoal

Activated charcoal is often required by law to be part of the equipment that crews have access to on many ambulances, for use in incidences of poisoning. Because of its amazing ability to absorb poisons and harmful substances, activated charcoal is the first-choice treatment in hospitals for suspected cases of poisoning, overdose, or other ingestion of harmful substances.

There has been a lot of research carried out on the benefits of activated charcoal and its benefits as an antidote to poison in particular. In one study, a laboratory animal was given 100 times the lethal dose of cobra venom, mixed with charcoal and the animal remained unharmed.

In other tests, arsenic and strychnine were mixed with charcoal and then swallowed by humans under laboratory conditions. The test subjects survived, even though they were given poison dosages that were 5 to 10 times the known lethal dose.

Because medicines and drugs are chemical compounds, they are all toxins to a degree. If they are taken with activated charcoal, the charcoal will inhibit their action. This is why taking activated charcoal is most effective if it is given within 2 hours of ingesting a drug or other toxin.

All research studies found that activated charcoal powder is harmless when it is accidentally inhaled, swallowed, or comes into contact with the skin. If a large amount is swallowed it can cause constipation however. Most of the research suggests that it should not be taken for longer than 12 weeks at a time, and that it shouldn’t be used regularly for a long period of time.

Activated charcoal is different from the charcoal from burnt food; don’t consume this as it contains cancer-causing compounds. Charcoal briquettes, which are used on barbecues are dangerous too as they have chemicals added to them.

Activated charcoal is the most effective type of charcoal. The activation process makes it up to 3 times more effective than normal charcoal. The charcoal is ground into a fine powder, then it is put into a steam chamber. This makes the charcoal more porous so it is more absorbent.

Today’s medical science acknowledges that activated charcoal has many uses and benefits, and that it is completely safe to use.

Using activated charcoal to detox

Using activated charcoal to detox

One doctor from the USA recommends that his patients use activated charcoal to detox their bodies, and he admits to using it himself. He believes that it is effective for removing heavy metals, and recommends that patients take 20g per day, in 2-4 doses, over 12 days. This is best taken before breakfast as food can interfere with its effectiveness. He recommends that activated charcoal powder is mixed into 6-8 ounces of water. Shake the mixture well and drink it quickly.

Other doctors agree that the charcoal is effective for detoxification, because the charcoal does everything that a detox agent should do, in that it prevents harmful toxins and other substances from damaging health by causing disease, allergies, reduced immunity, and premature ageing.

To aid detox from the exposure to everyday toxins, the doctors recommend one of 2 methods of consumption:

Use the activated charcoal on 2 consecutive days each week. Take a total of 20 to 35 grams each day divided into 2-3 doses. Take it in the morning, at midday and before bed on an empty stomach as food can interfere with its action. Avoid excessive intake of processed foods on the days you are taking the activated charcoal. Or you can try the other method:

Take about 20 grams per day of activated charcoal in equally divided doses over several months. Have a break for a month, then start again.

Not all doctors would agree that is an effective detoxifier, but there are some key uses and benefits of activated charcoal that they do agree on. These are:

Treating poisonous bites from snakes, spiders, and insects.

Using it to treat poisoning in general, as well as overdoses of aspirin, Tylenol, and other drugs.

Using it to treat some forms of dysentery, diarrhoea, and dyspepsia.

Using it to disinfect and deodorise wounds.

Using it to eliminate toxic by-products that cause anaemia and other health problems in cancer patients.

Using it to filter toxins from the blood in the case of liver and kidney diseases.

To purify the blood used in transfusions.

A note on cases of poisoning

Although activated charcoal can be used as an antidote in poisoning from many drugs and chemicals, it will not be effective against some substances and compounds such as cyanide, alcohol, caustic alkalis, or boric acids. Strong alkaline and acid poisons need to be treated with solutions with the opposite Ph level. Examples of this include using calcium powder in water to treat acid, and vinegar will help to offset the effects of alkalis. Always contact the advice line for poisons if any substance has been ingested. You can find this in your phonebook or online.

When mixed with water and swallowed to counteract poisoning, activated charcoal powder absorbs the poison or drug, inactivating it. It then renders it harmless, carries it through the entire length of the digestive tract and then out of the body. One of the biggest benefits of activated charcoal is that it is not absorbed, or metabolised by the body and it is completely safe.

You should keep some at home, especially if you have small children who will put anything in their mouth.

What to do in a case of poisoning

If the victim is still conscious, try to induce vomiting, unless the ingested substance is an acid. Vomiting will bring up about 30% of the poison from the stomach.

When the activated charcoal is given, this will help to inactivate the remaining 70% of the poison. The usual dose is 5-50g of charcoal, depending on a person’s age and body size. Adults should be given at least 30g, which is about half a cup of charcoal powder. Larger doses will be needed if the person has eaten a meal in the last hour or so.

A dose of 200 grams is recommended in cases of severe poisoning. The activated charcoal will begin to work in as little as just 1 minute. The sooner it is given after the ingestion of the harmful substance, the better. The dosage can be given every 4 hours if needed.

Obviously, don’t give the charcoal to an unconscious casualty. Attempt to clear the airways and administer CPR if necessary, until medical help arrives.

Do not give charcoal before giving someone something to make them vomit, as the charcoal will stop whatever you have given them from working. The charcoal will not work with strong acids or alkalis and this requires specific treatment in hospital.

How to use activated charcoal

Take Some Activated Charcoal

Activated charcoal powder must be stored in a tightly sealed container, because it absorbs impurities from the atmosphere, though leaving the top off a container of charcoal will partially purify the room it is in.

To take the charcoal, simply place some charcoal in water, stir it well, and swallow. It can also be applied topically to the skin’s surface. It is odourless and tasteless, and it only takes about 1 minute to absorb toxins or harmful substances.

Charcoal can also be placed into empty gelatin capsules and swallowed with water, however, the charcoal will act more slowly if taken in this manner. Activated charcoal can also be mixed with fruit juice, but it works more slowly if taken in this way too.  

Final thoughts

In today’s modern world, toxins are a real concern. There are toxins in the air we breathe, the food we consume, and in the chemicals we use on our bodies and around our homes. You might have small children who are prone to getting into cupboards and putting things into their mouth, including potentially harmful chemicals!

That is why it’s important to have access to a treatment for the ingestion of harmful substances. Activated charcoal is the treatment of choice for the ingestion of harmful substances and accidental or deliberate overdose of drugs and other medicines.

Many hospitals and ambulances stock activated charcoal because of its ability to absorb toxins, bind to them, and render them harmless. What is even better, is that activated charcoal is completely safe to use.

It is effective for use against many chemicals, substances, and toxins, but it does not work with strong acids or alkalis, which need specialised treatment to counter their actions.

There has been much research into the use of activated charcoal, and it has been used in amazing human and animal laboratory studies which have demonstrated that it can be used as an antidote to usually fatal doses of poison. Other studies have examined its effectiveness in the treatment of digestive disorders such as dyspepsia and excessive gas, and its effectiveness in helping wounds to heal if applied to the skin as a poultice.

As mentioned, activated charcoal is generally safe for most people, though caution is advised if you are suffering from any serious digestive issues, dehydration, or recent abdominal surgery. Any of these conditions can affect the way that the charcoal reacts in your body.

Activated charcoal can interfere with the absorption of nutrients, some supplements and some prescription medications, so take activated charcoal 90 minutes- 2 hours before meals, supplements and prescription medications. Activated charcoal can potentially interact with some drugs such as morphine and some antidepressants.

When buying activated charcoal for any reason it’s essential that you know what it’s made from. Not all activated charcoal supplements are the same.

Look for activated charcoal made from coconut shells or types of wood with ultra-fine grains. In its powdered form, many activated charcoal products have added artificial sweeteners to make them more palatable. Avoid these where possible.

Artificial sweeteners are loaded with chemicals, and it goes against what you are trying to achieve if you are using the activated charcoal to get rid of chemicals and toxins. Sweeten the charcoal with fruit juice or a natural sweetener.


Written by Irina Radosevic MD
Irina graduated from the University of Belgrade, School of Medicine as a Doctor of Medicine (MD) and spent over 3 years working in the Clinical Hospital Center Zvezdara, in the Department of Emergency Medicine. She also undertook a postgraduate in Cardiology from the same University and had previously worked for over a year as a Physician and Nutritionist Dietitian for the Fitness club Green Zone. She eventually left her chaotic but fulfilling job in the ER to pursue her passion of writing, travelling and mountain climbing which has included writing a first aid course for the alpine club of Belgrade. Irina currently works as a VA for PintMedia focusing on medical and travel writing. Feel free to connect with Irina on LinkedIn and FaceBook. Her CV can be seen here.