Activated Charcoal and Drug Poisoning

Activated charcoal has become the hot new ingredient in trendy ‘detox’ juices, available in health food stores and at many juice bars. However, research has shown that it binds with vitamins and nutrients, and can decrease the effectiveness of medications like birth control pills.


Fortunately, it works just as well externally to reduce odor, treat skin issues and soothe itchy scalps. Read on to learn about activated charcoal benefits and uses for your whole body.

Activated Charcoal Benefits

Activated charcoal is an of-the-moment ingredient and supplement that’s been spotted in everything from facial masks to smoothie bowls. It’s also an emergency antidote for drug or poisoning events as it binds to drugs and chemicals to prevent their absorption in the body (1).

This is thanks to its porous surface, which has been treated with high temperatures to create lots of small pores and spaces. Those pores give activated charcoal its sponge-like properties and help it to effectively adsorb and eliminate toxins from the body (2).

It’s been used in medicine as an emergency treatment since the early 1800s, helping to reduce drug or poisoning overdoses by binding to the drugs or toxins and eliminating them from the body (3). It’s important to note that this works best when administered promptly after the ingestion and in sufficient quantities. It’s not an effective treatment if a patient is dehydrated, has a blockage or holes in the digestive tract (4).

Activated charcoal is also known to help with indigestion and gas, as well as diarrhea, though the research on this is limited (5). It may even be useful in water filtration, with one study demonstrating that it can remove some pollutants, as well as bacteria and viruses (6). It can also be used externally to cleanse the skin, reducing body odor and clearing up acne or insect bites.

Activated Charcoal Uses

Activated charcoal is used in the emergency room to treat drug or poison overdoses by blocking the drug or poison from entering the bloodstream. It is a black powder that can be given by mouth or mixed with water to make a drink that the patient drinks. It may also be administered through a nasogastric tube. It works best if it is taken as soon as possible after the ingestion of drugs or poisons. If not, it does not work and can actually increase the absorption of the drug or poison. Activated charcoal is not recommended for use with medications that are absorbed through the intestines, such as birth control pills, calcium channel blockers and diuretics.

Applied topically, activated charcoal can bind to toxins and chemicals that cause bad skin reactions or insect bites. It can also be used to help reduce body odor and absorb gas that causes discomfort in the digestive tract.

Activated charcoal is made by heating carbon-rich materials, such as wood, coconut shells and peat, at high temperatures. This process creates pores that expand and makes the charcoal porous. It can then be shaped into different forms and infused with other natural ingredients for specific uses, such as teeth whitening or hair care. Briogeo’s Charcoal Scalp Treatment, for example, is infused with binchotan, a hyper-porous activated charcoal from Japan that helps soothe itchy, oily and flaky scalps.

Activated Charcoal Safety

In the case of poisoning, activated charcoal is able to bind with many drugs and chemicals and prevent them from being absorbed into your body. It is also a great way to help reduce the effects of some poisons, such as opium, acetaminophen, cocaine and other toxins.

Activated charcoal is very effective when it is administered quickly after the ingestion of a poison or drug. Volunteer studies and some clinical studies show that it decreases the absorption of many drugs by up to 90%. Ideally, it is given within one hour of ingestion.

Using too much activated charcoal can cause serious problems, such as dehydration and imbalances in electrolytes, such as potassium and sodium. It can also interfere with some medical tests, such as urine and stool samples. Additionally, long-term use of charcoal can cause black stools and block absorption of some nutrients and medications.

Activated charcoal can bind with some important bacteria in your digestive tract, such as E. coli, which can interfere with your body’s ability to digest and absorb foods. This is why it is important to drink plenty of fluids when taking charcoal, and to not take it more than recommended. For these reasons, it is recommended to only take charcoal supplements under the care of a physician or health care professional.

Activated Charcoal for Teeth Whitening

Activated charcoal is an ingredient in some teeth whiteners, but the results are mixed. It’s an abrasive material that physically removes surface stains, but it can also wear down enamel over time, which exposes dentin and makes your teeth more sensitive. This is a major problem because once enamel is weakened or destroyed, it cannot be replaced.

Using charcoal toothpaste or tablets for whitening is generally not recommended by dentists, especially those who treat patients with receding gums or sensitive teeth. This is because it can be too abrasive for teeth and may damage fillings, crowns, or other dental work. Additionally, the charcoal can irritate sensitive gums and can be harmful for the overall health of your gums.

If you do choose to try a charcoal teeth whitening treatment, make sure it is 100% pure and has no added flavors or sweeteners. You can buy it in powder form and mix it with water to create a paste. Be sure to use a non-abrasive brush and rinse your mouth well afterward. This should be done 2-3 times per week.