Charcoal is a black solid substance obtained by burning of wood and vegetable substances.
This charcoal has been used as means of fuel especially for ironing of clothes.
Before the discovery of toothpaste, charcoal was used widely to clean teeth.
Even today there are toothpastes containing charcoal.
It also has ability to remove color from any solution.
So when the powder is put into any liquid, it can remove color from it.
Activated charcoal to put it simply is a charcoal powder which is activated.
Activation means, its ability to adsorb has been greatly enhanced.
It is an inert, tasteless and odorless carbon powder.
Charcoal is obtained by exhaustive burning of wood or coal.
This is then powdered to fine particles to enhance its surface area.
It is then activated by subjecting to steam at high temperature.
This makes the powder more porous and also less denser.
This powdered form and porosity greatly enhances its capacity to adsorb substances to its surface.
Another important attribute of this activated charcoal is that it is not absorbed into body.
Though consumed in high doses it doesn’t cause any irritation or harm to the gut.
Activated Charcoal Uses
Activated charcoal by itself is not a drug and is completely inert. But it properties of absorbance are exploited in medicine.
1. In poisoning: It is especially used in treatment of poisoning. When a poison is consumed by mouth, then activated charcoal is given. This activated charcoal powder adsorbs toxin and poison foods in the stomach and prevent further poisoning. Thus activated charcoal in the stomach helps prevent absorption into the body and thereby reduce toxicity.
This also removes poison absorbed into blood especially that is still in the nearby vicinity circulation.
Since it is not absorbed into body it gets removed from the gut without any change along with it adsorbed poisons.
It is also the part of universal antidote. Universal antidote is one which is given to a patient in times when the nature of poison consumed is not known. The other two components present include, magnesium oxide and tannic acid.
It has to be prepared as a mixture of 50gm of charcoal in a glass of water. It is given by oral route or by inserting a tube into stomach.
A ratio of 10:1 of charcoal to poison has to be present in the gut for effective removal of poison from the stomach. Once poison is adsorbed to charcoal, it is rarely released back and hence gets out of the gut.
Though activated charcoal has good ability to adsorb poison and other substances in harmful doses, it is not suitable to adsorb all the substances and further it can prevent action of other anti-dotes which are aimed to induce vomiting of ingested poison.
Other uses of activated charcoal:
2. As teeth cleanser. Before the development of tooth pastes, this was used to clean the teeth. Currently it is present in few toothpaste preparations. This is because, charcoal can also adsorb bacteria, germs and other debris from the tooth surface and keep them fit. Also it is not harsh on the mucous and other soft tissues in the mouth. So it is a healthy means to brush the teeth. Even if swallowed by mistake like in young children, it is not harmful.
3.To relieve insect bites: When insects bite, most of them release acetic acid sort of chemical which stings and causes pain. Applying a paste of activated charcoal helps to remove the chemical and reduce pain and swelling.
4. Skin cleanser: It is used in skin creams to aid dirt removal from skin due to its adsorbent property. Hence you can notice many facial beauty creams have charcoal activated in it.