Activated charcoal

    • What type of medicine is this?

    • 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.
    • What is the medicine used for?

    • 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.

    • How to take this medicine?

      • 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.
    • What are the side-effects?

    • 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.

    • What to know before taking this medicine?

      • 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.