Common charcoal is made from peat, coal, wood, coconut shell, or petroleum. “Activated charcoal” is similar to common charcoal, but is made especially for use as a medicine. To make activated charcoal, manufacturers heat common charcoal in the presence of a gas that causes the charcoal to develop lots of internal spaces or “pores.” These pores help activated charcoal “trap” chemicals.
Activated charcoal is used to treat poisonings, reduce intestinal gas (flatulence), lower cholesterol levels, prevent hangover, and treat bile flow problems (cholestasis) during pregnancy.
How does it work?
Activated charcoal is good at trapping chemicals and prevents their absorption.
Likely Effective for:
- Trapping chemicals to stop some types of poisoning when used as a part of standard treatment.
- Lowering cholesterol levels. So far, research studies don’t agree about the effectiveness of taking activated charcoal by mouth to lower cholesterol levels in the blood.
- Decreasing gas (flatulence). Some studies show that activated charcoal is effective in reducing intestinal gas, but other studies don’t agree. It’s too early to come to a conclusion on this.
- Treating reduced bile flow (cholestasis) during pregnancy. Taking activated charcoal by mouth seems to help treat cholestasis in pregnancy, according to some early research reports.
- Preventing hangover. Activated charcoal is included in some hangover remedies, but some experts are skeptical about how well it might work. Activated charcoal doesn’t seem to trap alcohol well.
- Other conditions.
Side Effects & Safety
Activated charcoal is safe for most adults when used short-term. Side effects of activated charcoal include constipation and black stools. More serious, but rare, side effects are a slowing or blockage of the intestinal tract, regurgitation into the lungs, and dehydration.
Special Precautions & Warnings:Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Activated charcoal might be safe when used short-term if you are pregnant or breast-feeding, but consult with your healthcare professional before using if you are pregnant.
Gastrointestinal (GI) blockage or slow movement of food through the intestine: Don’t use activated charcoal if you have any kind of intestinal obstruction. Also, if you have a condition that slows the passage of food through your intestine (reduced peristalsis), don’t use activated charcoal, unless you are being monitored by your healthcare provider.
Major Interaction Do not take this combination
- Syrup of ipecac interacts with ACTIVATED CHARCOAL
Activated charcoal can bind up syrup of ipecac in the stomach. This decreases the effectiveness of syrup of ipecac.
Moderate Interaction Be cautious with this combination
- Alcohol interacts with ACTIVATED CHARCOAL
Activated charcoal is sometimes used to prevent poisons from being absorbed into the body. Taking alcohol with activated charcoal might decrease how well activated charcoal works to prevent poison absorption.
- Medications taken by mouth (Oral drugs) interacts with ACTIVATED CHARCOAL
Activated charcoal absorbs substances in the stomach and intestines. Taking activated charcoal along with medications taken by mouth can decrease how much medicine your body absorbs, and decrease the effectiveness of your medication. To prevent this interaction, take activated charcoal at least one hour after medications you take by mouth.
The following doses have been studied in scientific research:
- For drug overdose or poisoning: 50 to 100 grams of activated charcoal is given at first, followed by charcoal every 2 to 4 hours at a dose equal to 12.5 grams per hour. For children, lower doses (10 to 25 grams) are used.