Charcoal is a black solid substance obtained by burning wood and vegetable substances.
This charcoal has been used as a means of fuel and as a powder for different purposes.
Before the discovery of toothpaste, charcoal was used widely to clean teeth.
Even today, there are kinds of toothpaste containing charcoal.
Activated charcoal technically is a charcoal powder that is activated.
Activated means its ability of physical adsorption has been dramatically 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 less dense.
This powdered form and porosity greatly enhance its capacity to adsorb substances to its surface.
Another important attribute of this activated charcoal is that it is not absorbed into the body.
Though consumed in high doses, it doesn’t cause any irritation or harm to the gut.
It also can remove the color from any solution. So when the powder is put into any liquid, it can remove the color from it.
Activated Charcoal Uses
Activated charcoal by itself is not a drug and is completely inert. But its properties of absorbance are exploited in medicine.
1. In poisoning
It is especially used in the treatment of acute poisoning. When poison is consumed by mouth, then activated charcoal is given.
This activated charcoal powder adsorbs toxins and poison foods in the digestive tract and prevents further absorption of the poison into the blood.
Thus it prevents further poisoning and thereby reduces toxicity.
Thus, it is a vital part of gastrointestinal decontamination during the treatment of poisoned patients in hospitals.
It also removes poison absorbed into the blood, especially that is still in the nearby vicinity of circulation.
Since it is not absorbed into the body it gets removed from the gut without any change along with its adsorbed poisons.
It was also a part of the universal antidote. The other two components present include magnesium oxide and tannic acid.
The universal antidote is one that is given to a patient in times when the nature of poison consumed is not known.
Though activated charcoal can absorb poison and other substances in harmful doses, it is not suitable to adsorb all the substances.
Further, it can prevent the action of other antidotes that are aimed to induce vomiting of ingested poison.
Other uses of activated charcoal:
2. As a teeth cleanser.
Before the development of toothpaste, this was used to clean the teeth. Currently, it is present in a 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 compound and reduce pain and swelling.
4. Skin Cleanser
It is used in skin creams to aid dirt removal from the skin due to its adsorbent property. Hence you can notice many facial beauty creams have charcoal activated in it.
5. For Dialysis
Activated charcoal is also used for haemoperfusion. Here, the blood is allowed to pass into an extracorporeal circulation in which it is exposed to activated charcoal.
This activated charcoal help remove drug, metabolites and other toxic substances from the body in chronic kidney dysfunction or systemic poisoning.