Activated charcoal is available as powders, tablets and can be mixed with water to form a suspension taken by mouth. To prevent poisons from getting in through your skin, you can make a paste too.
It is commonly available in supermarkets and pharmacies.
You should use activated charcoal within 1 hour of swallowing the poison. It should not be used in poisoning in children.
It is useful for poisoning by:
- High blood pressure medicines.
- Some antimalarials, like quinine, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine.
- Some forms of methotrexate, and medicines used for pain in the knee.
- It does not work for all poisons especially strong acids or bases, alcohol, or petroleum substances like kerosene.
Activated charcoal prevents harmful drugs and chemicals from entering your body. You also do not need a prescription to buy this medicine. You can get it from a supermarket or pharmacy.
- As an adult, you should take 50 – 100 grams of activated charcoal within one hour of poisoning.
- When vomiting may help, take recommended Ipecacuanha syrup first and take the activated charcoal after about 30 minutes. The activated charcoal can reduce how well Ipecacuanha syrup works.
- Take activated charcoal within one hour of taking the harmful drug or chemical.
- Shake the activated charcoal suspension before use to get an even suspension. You can make a suspension from the powder by mixing one tablespoon of the powder into a cup having 8 tablespoons of clean, drinking water.
Activated charcoal rarely causes side-effects because your body does not absorb it and it is usually used for a short period. However, you may still experience some mildly uncomfortable symptoms when you take this medicine:
- You may pass black stools or loose stools frequently.
- You may find it difficult to pass stools.
- You may feel like vomiting and vomit.
These should resolve on their own. However, if they continue, you should mention these or any other uncomfortable effects to your healthcare provider.
- It is important to tell your healthcare provider the exact drug or chemical you took in large amounts.
- Do not take activated charcoal if you have constipation or have not been able to pass stools.
- Do not take activated charcoal if you have an illness that makes you pass blood in your stools—for example, bleeding stomach or intestinal ulcers, haemorrhoids or anal injuries.
- Do not give activated charcoal to a loved one that is not awake and alert. Instead, take them to the health centre nearest to you for expert care.
- Do not take any other drug within two hours of taking this drug. Doing so can prevent your other medicines from being absorbed into your body.