Activated Charcoal: 4 Uses, How to Take & Dosing

Activated charcoal is made from common carbon that is treated with oxygen at high temperatures to increase its amount of pores. These pores are able to absorb toxins or chemical substances in the gastrointestinal system, which is why it is often used for cases of medication overdoses and food poisoning. 

In addition, due to its great capacity to absorb toxins and chemicals in the body, activated charcoal contains various health benefits. It can help to reduce intestinal gas and abdominal pain, as well as prevent a hangover. 

However, this medication can compromise the absorption of some vitamins, minerals and medications, therefore it should be used in moderation at times that differ from your other medication. You should only take activated charcoal as prescribed by a doctor. 

Imagem ilustrativa número 1

Common uses

Activated charcoal is indicated for: 

1. Eliminating intestinal gas

Activated charcoal has the ability to absorb intestinal gas, reduce bloating. and relieve abdominal pain and discomfort. 

2. Treating overdose or poisoning

Because activated charcoal has a powerful absorbing ability, it can be used in emergency situations. It is often indicated for chemical or medication poisoning, and can be administered for high levels of carbamazepine, phenobarbitol, quinine, theophylline and dapsone in the body. 

This medication can also be used for food poisoning, as it can easily attach to bacterial toxins. 

3. Filtering water

Some impurities in the water, like pesticides, remnants of industrial waste and some chemicals, can be removed with activated charcoal. This is why it is often used for water filtration systems. 

4. Preventing hangover

Activated charcoal prevents the absorption of other chemicals found in alcoholic drinks, like artificial sweeteners, sulfites and other toxins, which is why it can help to reduce hangover symptoms. 

Additionally, activated charcoal can be used for cases of enteritis, colitis, enterocolitis, and bloating. However, it is not able to absorb alcohol, petroleum derivatives, iron, lithium or other metals. 

How to take

Activated charcoal should be taken orally, and is typically found in pills of 250 mg. The normal recommended dose is a maximum of 4 to 6 pills per day, divided into 2 doses to be taken in between meals. The maximum dose for adults is 6 pills per day. 

Dosing for children over 2 is half of what is recommended for adults: 2 to 3 pills per day, divided into 2 doses. The maximum dose for children is 3 pills per day. 

To prevent a hangover, adults can take 1 g of activated charcoal before consuming alcohol, and 1 g after consumption. 

Pills should not be mixed with saline, but they can be taken with water or fruit juice.  

In cases of chemical poisoning and the person is not conscious, activated charcoal is used with gastric suctioning in a hospital setting. The dose required is calculated by the doctor using the patient’s body weight. 

Possible side effects

The main side effects of activated charcoal include dark stools, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation, particularly when consumed in excess.

Prolonged use of activated charcoal can reduce intestinal absorption of medications taken at the same time. Therefore, if you need to take a medication, it should be taken at least 3 hours before taking the activated charcoal.  

Contraindications for use

Activated charcoal should not be used by children under 2 years old, nor by patients with bowel obstructions or gastrointestinal problems. It should not be used by those who have taken caustic corrosive substances or hydrocarbonetes. 

In addition, this medication should not be used by people with an allergy to any of the components of the formula, or by those who have recently undergone intestinal surgery, or who have a notable decrease in intestinal flow. 

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should speak to their doctor before taking activated charcoal.