Common charcoal is made from peat, coal, wood, coconut shell, or petroleum. “Activated charcoal” is similar to common charcoal. Manufacturers make activated charcoal by heating common charcoal in the presence of a gas. This process causes the charcoal to develop lots of internal spaces or “pores.” These pores help activated charcoal “trap” chemicals.
Activated charcoal is commonly taken by mouth to treat poisonings. It is also used for intestinal gas (flatulence), high cholesterol, hangovers, upset stomach, and bile flow problems (cholestasis) during pregnancy.
Activated charcoal is applied to the skin as part of bandages for helping heal wounds.
You should not use this medication if you have ever had an allergic reaction to Activated Charcoal. Before taking this medication, tell your doctor if you are allergic to any drugs, or if you have liver or kidney disease, or any type of serious illness.
In a poisoning or overdose situation, it may not be possible before you are treated to tell your caregivers about any health conditions you have or if you are pregnant or breast-feeding. However, make sure any doctor caring for you afterward knows that you have received this medication. If you are taking Activated Charcoal at home to treat diarrhea, stop taking it and call your doctor if your diarrhea lasts longer than 2 days or you also have a fever.
Do not take Activated Charcoal with any other medicine. Take your dose of Activated Charcoal at least 2 hours before or 1 hour after a dose of any other medicine. Activated Charcoal binds to other drugs and can make them less effective, which could become dangerous.
Before taking this medicine
You should not use this medication if you have ever had an allergic reaction to Activated Charcoal.
If possible, before you receive Activated Charcoal, tell your doctor if you are allergic to any drugs, or if you have: liver disease; kidney disease; or any type of serious illness.
If you have any of these conditions, you may need a dose adjustment or special tests to safely take this medication.
It is not known whether Activated Charcoal is harmful to an unborn baby. Before you take Activated Charcoal, tell your doctor if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant during treatment.
It is not known whether charcoal passes into breast milk or if it could harm a nursing baby. Do not use this medication without telling your doctor if you are breast-feeding a baby.
In a poisoning or overdose situation, it may not be possible to tell your caregivers that you are pregnant or breast-feeding before you are treated with Activated Charcoal.
However, make sure any doctor caring for your pregnancy or your baby knows that you have received the medication.
Do not give this medication to a child younger than 1 year old without the advice of a doctor.
Uses & Effectiveness
Possibly Effective for
- Poisoning. Activated charcoal is useful for trapping chemicals to stop some types of poisoning when used as part of standard treatment. Activated charcoal should be given within 1 hour after a poison has been ingested. It does not seem to be beneficial if given for 2 or more hours after some types of poisoning. And activated charcoal doesn’t seem to help stop all types of poisoning.
Insufficient Evidence for
- 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.
- Diarrhea caused by the cancer drug irinotecan. Irinotecan is a cancer drug known to cause diarrhea. Early research shows that taking activated charcoal during treatment with irinotecan decreases diarrhea, including severe diarrhea, in children taking this drug.
- 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.
- Indigestion. Some early research shows that taking certain combination products containing activated charcoal and simethicone, with or without magnesium oxide, can reduce pain, bloating, and feelings of fullness in people with indigestion. It’s unclear if taking activated charcoal by itself will help.
- 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.
- Lowering phophate levels in people on dialysis. Early research shows that taking activated charcoal daily for 24 weeks might reduce phosphate levels in people on hemodialysis who have high phosphate levels.
- 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.
- Toxic effects from the antiseizure drug phenytoin. Some early research shows that activated charcoal can help remove phenytoin from the body, bringing the phenytoin levels back to a normal range.
- Wound healing. Studies on the use of activated charcoal for wound healing are mixed. Some early research shows that using bandages with activated charcoal helps wound healing in people with venous leg ulcers. But other research shows that activated charcoal does not help treat bed sores or venous leg ulcers.
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.
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.
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.