Activated Charcoal

Activated Charcoal
Activated Charcoal

Uses of Activated Charcoal

Possibly effective for…

  • Poisoning. Activated charcoal is useful for trapping chemicals to stop some types of poisoning when used as part of standard treatment. It should be given within 1 hour after the poison has been ingested. It does not seem to be beneficial if given for 2 or more hours after some type of poisoning. And it doesn’t seem to help stop all types of poisoning.

Insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness for…

  • Diarrhea caused by cancer drug treatment. Irinotecan is a cancer drug known to cause diarrhea. Early research shows that taking activated charcoal during treatment with irinotecan decreases diarrhea, including severe diarrhea, in children taking this drug.
  • Reduced or blocked the flow of bile from the liver (cholestasis). Taking activated charcoal by mouth seems to help treat cholestasis in pregnancy, according to some early research reports.
  • Indigestion (dyspepsia). Some early research shows that taking certain combination products containing activated charcoal and simethicone, with or without magnesium oxide, can reduce pain, bloating, and feelings of fullness in people with indigestion. It’s unclear if taking it by itself will help.
  • Gas (flatulence). Some studies show that it is effective in reducing intestinal gas. But other studies don’t agree. It’s too early to come to a conclusion on this.
  • Hangover. Activated charcoal is included in some hangover remedies, but experts are skeptical about how well it might work. It doesn’t seem to trap alcohol well.
  • High cholesterol. So far, research studies don’t agree about the effectiveness of taking it by mouth to lower cholesterol levels in the blood.
  • High levels of phosphate in the blood (hyperphosphatemia). Early research shows that taking activated charcoal daily for up to 12 months appears to reduce phosphate levels in people with kidney disease, including those on hemodialysis who have high phosphate levels.
  • Wound healing. Studies on the use for wound healing are mixed. Some early research shows that using bandages with it helps wound healing in people with venous leg ulcers. But other research shows that it does not help treat bed sores or venous leg ulcers.
  • Other conditions.More evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of activated charcoal for these uses.

Side Effects of Activated Charcoal

  • When taken by mouth: Activated charcoal is LIKELY SAFE for most adults when taken by mouth, short-term. Taking it long-term by mouth is POSSIBLY SAFE. Side effects of taking it by mouth include constipation and black stools. More serious, but rare, side effects are a slowing or blockage of the intestinal tract, regurgitation into the lungs, and dehydration.
  • When applied to the skin: Activated charcoal is LIKELY SAFE for most adults when applied to wounds.

Warnings & Precautions

  • Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Activated charcoal might be safe when used short-term if you are pregnant or breast-feeding, but consult with your healthcare professional before using if you are pregnant.
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) blockage or slow movement of food through the intestine: Don’t use if you have any kind of intestinal obstruction. Also, if you have a condition that slows the passage of food through your intestine (reduced peristalsis), don’t use it, unless you are being monitored by your healthcare provider.

Activated Charcoal Dosage

The following doses have been studied in scientific research:



For drug overdose or poisoning: 50-100 grams of activated charcoal is given at first, followed by charcoal every 2-4 hours at a dose equal to 12.5 grams per hour. Sometimes a single-dose of 25-100 grams may be used.



For drug overdose or poisoning: Activated charcoal 10-25 grams is recommended for children up to one year of age, while 25-50 grams is recommended for children 1-12 years of age. Activated charcoal 10-25 grams is recommended if multiple-doses are needed.


All information has been provided courtesy of MedLinePlus from the National Library of Medicine and from the FDA.