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Essential First Aid Item: Activated Carbon for Poison Emergencies

Written by Print 

Activated carbon, in powdered form, should be in every medicine cabinet and first aid kit. It is also known as activated charcoal. It is used around the world as a universal antidote for hundreds of poisons, including arsenic, mercury, pesticides, strychnine, warfarin, hemlock, E. Coli endotoxin, and gasoline. Over 4,000 chemicals, drugs, plant and microbial toxins, allergens, venoms, and wastes are effectively neutralized by activated charcoal, when it is given in sufficient quantities. Activated charcoal is also an effective detox for practically any drug overdose if administered in time. It counteracts ingested aspirin, barbiturates, Prozac, paracetamol (Tylenol), phenobarbital, amphetamines, cocaine, morphine, opium, and the list continues endlessly.

In 1813, French chemist Michel Bertrand swallowed five grams of arsenic trioxide: 150 times the lethal dose. He had mixed it with activated carbon beforehand. He experienced no nausea, no vomiting, no diarrhea, no excruciating cramping, no severe burning in the mouth or throat, no collapse, and no death. In a dangerous but dramatic way, he had avoided certain death while publicly demonstrating charcoal's phenomenal ability to neutralize poisons.

In 1831, in front of his distinguished colleagues at the French Academy of Medicine, Professor Touery drank a deadly cocktail of strychnine and lived to tell the tale. He had combined the deadly poison with activated charcoal. It demonstrated how powerful activated charcoal is as an emergency decontaminant. Activated charcoal is still the most potent and rapid-acting general detoxification agent available.

We witnessed the saving power of activated charcoal ourselves, when one member of our household experienced a severe allergic reaction to an unknown ingredient from a restaurant. We orally administered two teaspoons of dampened activated charcoal powder, followed by a glass of water. The allergic reaction began subsiding rapidly, and completely dissipated within thirty minutes. Activated carbon may have saved our patient from a visit to a hospital, an injection of steroids (and only God knows what else), a stomach pump, and possibly the need for the victim to remain in the hospital for several days.

Manufacture and Storage

The best and cheapest option for obtaining quality activated carbon is to powder aquarium filtration charcoal with a mortar and pestle. Aquarium charcoal has the same purpose for aquarium water: to extract various toxins from the water, including organic wastes. It is also found in some pharmacies. Regardless of where it is obtained, it should be powdered before it is stored, and dampened when used. It should be stored in an air-tight container, because it will absorb impurities from the air. Swallowing it damp prevents the powder from being inhaled into the lungs, where it could become dangerous. A glass of water should be consumed immediately afterward.

Exceptions: Activated charcoal is less effective in neutralizing cyanide, alcohols, ethanol, ethylene glycol, iron, lithium, methanol, mineral acids, and alkaline substances (usually lime or cleaning agents). Alcohols, in particular, appear to be immune to activated carbon.

Risks: Charcoal significantly decreases a body's absorption of all nutrients and medications. Because of this, frequent use of it is strongly discouraged. Activated charcoal may also cause abdominal pain or swelling in rare cases. If this occurs, contact a doctor immediately, since this could be an indication of intestinal bleeding or blockage. For mild cases of charcoal-induced constipation, a person may self-treat with a hemp fiber supplement.

Other Uses

  • Colon cleanse: activated charcoal binds intestinal toxins and unfriendly microbial growth and helps the body excrete them.
  • Eliminates diarrhea, gas, and bloating.
  • Prevents hangovers: hangovers are usually caused by the chemical toxins put into beverages, and are not usually the result of alcohol consumption.
  • Neutralizes food poisoning.
  • Neutralizes venomous bites (for instance the brown recluse spider bite) - taken both internally and externally.
  • Toothache pain - make into a paste around the tooth.

Note: Charcoal briquettes like those used for outdoor grilling should never be used to make medical activated charcoal, and no part of them should ever be ingested.

Emergencies: If you have a poisoning emergency and you live in the United States, then you should call the U.S. Poison Control at (800) 222-1222.


Related Articles

Quick Tip: How To Cure A Hangover

Quick Tip: Emergency Alternative Medicine For Snake Bites

Naturally Treating Brown Recluse Spider Bites

How To Quickly Remedy Food Poisoning



Comments (13)
  • danielle royer

    I bought some activated carbon at walmart. the pet aisle. i got bit by a brown recluse over a month ago. i heard i can use it. How do i put it on? The bit was on my leg. Do I mix it with water?

  • C. Thomas Corriher (Managing Editor)

    Off the top of my head...

    It is too late for the charcoal to do any good. The poison damaged your tissues, and it left you with scarring. It is unlikely that any of the poison remains in you.

    DMSO is likely to be helpful at removing the scarring. Just make sure not to use it internally, and make certain everything (including your skin) is surgically clean, because DMSO is known to pull other chemicals into the body. Please reference our precautionary notes about DMSO from the article, Curing The Blistering Skin Condition Known As Milia: Treating Adult Onset Milia

    MSM might be helpful too, if taken as a supplement.

    Also, be sure to get some sunlight exposure as often as possible, because this will help the skin flush the excess cholesterol reserves.

    I'll get Sarah researching specific remedies to the scarring caused by brown recluse spider venom, and hopefully we'll be able to return to this with better information.

  • Sarah C. Corriher (H.W. Researcher)

    Hey Danielle,

    I apologize for taking several days to get back to you. I did do some research on Brown Recluse bites, but didn't find any information that would be useful to you a month after the initial bite. Thomas did offer some suggestions which may help you to regrow damaged tissue in his comment; but there is little else that I can recommend.

    We will almost certainly be posting an article about Brown Recluse bites in the near future, but unfortunately, this will only help those who take action soon after the bite.

    Some people in your position would opt for a plastic surgeon, but we would recommend a little prayer first. Pray hard if you go for surgery. :)

  • linda

    well,thank you for share your article
    I like your article very much, and I would appreciate it if you can write more article about this.

  • nick name Micky  - Activated Charcoal

    Can Activated Charcoal cause pain in the brain? After I took some Activated Charcoal I noticed a pain in my brain of the left side.

  • Ljarvis  - Thomas is right...and you may not know this...

    Those pretty white stripes you see planes spraying in the sky everyday?? Well, it's aluminum folks. And there's nothing you can do about it...

  • Stephanie  - tooth ache pain

    It says on your site that I can use the charcoal and make a paste for toothache pain, how do I do this, and what should I use for the paste? Water?

  • Kathleen

    I read years ago about increased aluminium found in Alzheimer's patients brains upon autopsy. My family used Wear-Ever Cookware, and my mother had a habit of storing food in them which is not recommended, especially acidic food such as tomatoes. This does break down the aluminium, which was evident by the pitting in the pots. I got ride of my Wear-Ever Cookware and do not store food in anything but glass. I suspect aluminium is only part of the equation, so why take the chance.

  • Todd Pajnich  - help it out

    I bought Aqua-Tech Activated carbon but it doesn't have the ingredients listed on it or anything so i'm wondering if its the right product could you lemme know please?

  • Bonnie  - Don't know where to purchase activated charcoal

    After finding this page, I set off to Walmart to buy it. The pharmacy acted as though they had never heard of it. Next, I went to Walgreen's. They didn't have it, but the pharmacist said she could order it. The cost? $25.00 an ounce!! It's all about the money with Big Medicine. They could not care less about geting people well.
    Question: Where do I look next?

  • C. Thomas Corriher (Managing Editor)

    The cheapest and easiest way to get it is to buy aquarium charcoal from a pet store or Walmart (Asda). Of course, you will need a mortar and pestle to grind it up into a fine powder. This article contains instructions and precautionary notices on how to do it right. In an emergency, you need it fast, and grinding it up is time consuming. Therefore, get prepared by making it immediately and storing it in an air tight container. If our advice saves you from food poisoning, or any other type, then be sure and tell your friends how you were saved by Health Wyze.

  • Bruce Baldwin  - Activated Carbon Sources and Precautions

    Do a search on Ebay for activated charcoal, there are over 1000 products from pre-ground capsules to air and water filtration to bulk 10, 20 even 2000 pound containers, so the idea that activated carbon is scarce or expensive is simply false (i.e. 10 pounds of organic coconut shell based activated carbon is under $20). Note however that some of the products, such as aquarium activated carbon, were made from bituminous coal, while others were coconut shell based as mentioned above, with a range of other sources such as hardwoods. Clearly one should take the time to filter the results to insure you are getting a product from coco shells or hardwood rather than coal. Seems simplest if you want to keep something with you at all times to counter food poisoning or spider bites to just buy preground capsules so they're always at the ready.

    I used the bulk product to make my own off-grid water pre-filter in a 10 gallon stainless steel pool filter canister between my cistern and pumphouse.

  • Roger Barton  - Charcoal Tablets

    I'm currently working in south east Asia, where I've now had two bouts of bad food poisoning. The first time, the chemist recommended charcoal tablets, something I'd never heard of before. I was flying from Bangkok to Singapore and had been vomiting from 5am through the whole process at the airport til about 12.30pm. (Yep, remarkably nice of the Thais to let me fly!)

    As soon as I took the charcoal tablets, I didn't vomit again. Granted, it was late in the day but there didn't seem to be any end coming to my poisoning! I recovered remarkably quickly thereafter.

    Today, I have been afflicted with the same problem in Vietnam. This time, however, I knew exactly what to get from the pharmacy. Yep, I've vomited up the charcoal twice since taking it, but have only vomited three times in total all day and feel on the road to recovery already. These things work like magic - don't let the western pharmaceuticals brainwash you.

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