Medicinal Uses for Activated Charcoal

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What do the AAP-approved homeopathic remedy for infant colic and the International Space Station have in common? The same thing they have in common with nuclear submarines, EMTs, kidney dialysis machines, NBC suits (Nuclear Biological Chemical), water filters, emergency hospitals, poison control centers… and savvy doctors, nurses, mothers, farmers, world travelers and environmentalists.

Infant Colic

Armed with a mother’s heart, J went to her kitchen to formulate something that would relieve her first born from his misery and crying. The family was all worn out from sleepless nights as baby C cried and cried from infant colic. With no formal training in herbs, no chemistry degree, J researched to find something other than the different gripe waters she had tried that contained alcohol and just weren’t working for her baby. After blending together half a dozen herbs, known for their medicinal benefits, she added her not-so-secret outlandish ingredient: activated charcoal. In only minutes baby C stopped crying, the colic was gone, the sleepless nights were history. Since then that simple remedy has helped tens of thousands of babies, and no doubt saved many a marriage from the brink of divorce—if you have ever experienced the strain and stress of a colicky baby that can cry almost 24/7 then you can understand why.

A Universal Antidote

Only a small fraction of the population are aware that charcoal is often referred to as the “universal antidote” for poisoning.* Activated charcoal is GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) for people and animals, and the FDA lists charcoal as Category I, “Safe and Effective” for poisoning. What kind of poisons? It is estimated in the neighborhood of 6,000+ natural and manmade toxins. From classic poisons like strychnine, arsenic and some heavy metals; to the endotoxins produced by tetanus, diphtheria, E. coli, and other microbes; to the cocktail of poisons coming out the ends of cigarettes and coal-fired generators; to virtually all psychotropic drugs (Lithium being one exception), just to name a few. In fact the neutralizing effect of activated charcoal on poisons is so wide reaching that when doctors prescribe it for various conditions, they are careful to stress not to take it within 1-2 hours of prescription drugs (pharmacologically also classed as poisons) because the charcoal may interfere with their absorption by the body.

Charcoal is basically inert. When given for poisoning, drug overdose, or food poisoning (by EMTs on the way to the hospital) the charcoal is not digested nor does it pass into the blood stream. Instead it passes from one end of the GI tract mopping up** toxins as it moves along, and together the toxins and charcoal are voided from the body at the other end.

Radiation Poisoning
During the 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, media publicity of potential radiation poisoning had desperate people along the west coast of America trying to score bottles of Potassium Iodide (KI) tablets as a possible antidote. Meanwhile the Japanese government was buying up shiploads of activated charcoal. Connected to each nuclear reactor are giant filters holding eight tons or more of activated charcoal made from coconut shell. Because the Japanese demand for coconut activated charcoal for water, air and soil decontamination put a serious dent in world stores, the prices rose dramatically—but not as high as KI tablets in California. Strange, that the antidote of choice for radiation toxicity was never mentioned in the media. Curious, but not surprising.

Home Poisoning
It is because activated charcoal does adsorb so many drugs—toxic chemicals, as well as poisonous plants—that, in 2001, Kentucky’s Regional Poison Center spearheaded a statewide media blitz to encourage every household to store activated charcoal in their medicine cabinet. Activated charcoal is most effective as an antidote for drug poisoning, mushroom poisoning or any poisoning, if given within the first thirty minutes. The Poison Center followed 138 cases of home poisoning in children. The average time for hospital treatment from the time of ingestion was about 73 minutes. The treatment time was cut to 38 minutes, almost half, for those children treated in the home by their parents. The study authors concluded: “Greater efforts need to be put into educating parents about the need to stock activated charcoal in the home in advance of a poisoning.” When your house is on fire that is no time to go looking for a fire extinguisher.

Do you have activated charcoal in your home? If not, consider purchasing activated charcoal for medicinal uses.

* Technically it is not universal. There are many chemicals that activated charcoal does not adsorb, still, it neutralizes so many, that it stands without peer among other potential antidotes for poisons.

** This action is called adsorption, as compared to absorption. What is the difference? When you eat a lemon meringue pie you are absorbing it. When someone throws it at your face you are adsorbing it. Charcoal adsorbs toxins to its internal surface area and refuses to let them go.

John Dinsley is the co-founder and owner of Charcoal House LLC and Charcoal Gardens experimental organic farm. He is a Lifestyle Counselor, teaches public health programs, home remedies workshops, and drug cessation clinics. His award-winning book, The Complete Handbook of Medicinal Charcoalis considered the most comprehensive manual on the medicinal applications of charcoal.

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