Can activated charcoal save you from poisoning?

Can activated charcoal save you from poisoning?

Activated charcoal is used in the treatment of poisoning cases, and it has been for years. It is in fact dubbed as the Universal cure for everything, from drug overdoses to the accidental ingestion of chemicals and non-edible things.

More recently, health trend pop culture has adopted activated charcoal into the mainstream by using it in smoothies, over foods and even as a daily supplement. Not everyone is convinced of its effectiveness, though, and the jury is still out on the pros versus the cons.

What is it, exactly?

When you hear the word charcoal, it is easy to envision the black, burned debris left in the fireplace or braai. That isn’t what we are speaking about here, although it is black and similar looking.

Activated charcoal comes from the controlled decomposition of carbon-based compounds, such as coconut shells or vegetable matter, also known as peat. Dr Axe explains that in order to make activated charcoal, the compounds are “activated” with gases at high heat, which expand its surface. A very porous final product is created, which allows for the adsorption of drugs and toxins.


New age health gurus are always promoting the idea of ‘cleansing’ the body, and activated charcoal is one of the popular methods used. The premise lies in the idea that because activated charcoal is given to victims of overdose to attract and expel the poisonous part of whatever was ingested, that it will clean the gut and blood by attracting and expelling toxins.

AC is also used for gastrointestinal issues like gas and bloating reduction. It is used to lower cholesterol, treat bile flow problems safely during pregnancy and even prevent hangovers (the toxin thing).

So, how does activated charcoal work?

So, it doesn’t actually absorb the toxins, but it does trap them in its pores. It works through the chemical process of adsorption, not absorption.

When the body absorbs things, the reaction of elements, including nutrients, chemicals and toxins, get absorbed and assimilated into the bloodstream. Adsorption is the chemical reaction in which elements bind to a surface.

The site continues that the activated charcoal’s porous surface has a negative electric charge. That negative charge causes positively charged toxins and gas to adhere to it. 

What are the benefits of supplementing Activated Charcoal?

Besides the well-known benefits of detoxification and gastric relief, AC is used to whiten teeth. A surprising benefit at that, as the AC is tar-black, while products usually associated with teeth are white.

The charcoal doesn’t stain, so rubbing it on the teeth and leaving it for some time will allow the pores to adsorb the plaque and germs and stains on the surface of the enamel.

AC is also used to help patients who have renal failure or are recovering from it. Dialysis patients and kidney transplant patients also benefit from its use. By using AC, the pressure is taken off the kidney, which is the body’s toxin filtration system.

Healthy kidneys are normally very well equipped to filter your blood without any additional help, explains Healthline. However, patients suffering from chronic kidney disease generally have a harder time removing urea and other toxins from the body.

Is activated charcoal a reliable Emergency Poison Treatment?

The short answer is yes, and it has been trusted to be one for years.

Its toxin-binding properties make activated charcoal the best, natural intervention to expel poison. It is usually used as a first resort before health professionals even consider a gastric pumping.

It can bind a wide variety of drugs, reducing their effects in humans. Activated charcoal has been used as a poison antidote since the early 1800s, but you have to act fast, as studies show that a single dose of 50 to 100 grams of activated charcoal is taken within five minutes of drug ingestion, it may reduce drug absorption in adults by up to 74%.

It can also be used to treat prescription drugs overdoses, as well as overdoses of over-the-counter medications like aspirin, acetaminophen and sedatives.

However, with all of the above having been said, it is important to note that in an emergency, it is best to be instructed by a medical professional. If you find yourself in a situation where someone may have overdosed or ingested poison, call the proper authorities immediately. They can help you through the steps of what needs to be done, while they make their way to you to take over!


The iER App is a free emergency application. It can be downloaded on any smart device. iER gives the user peace of mind. The App offers a no-cost solution for all types of emergencies. 

The App is a panic button that can be used in a variety of situations to ensure that the proper response team is sent to the scene of an emergency or crime. 

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