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Activated charcoal

Generic name: activated charcoal (CHAR coal)
Brand name: Actidose-Aqua, Charcocaps, Char-Flo Aqueous Base, EZChar, Insta-Char, Optimum Charcoal, ...show all 30 brand names
Dosage forms: oral capsule (200 mg; 260 mg); oral granule for reconstitution (25 g); oral suspension (15 g; 25 g; 50 g); oral tablet (250 mg)
Drug class: Antidotes, Miscellaneous GI agents

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com on Aug 27, 2021. Written by Cerner Multum.

What is activated charcoal?

Common charcoal is made from wood, coconut shell, peat, coal, or petroleum. "Activated charcoal" is a processed form of common charcoal that contains pores that can trap other chemicals and prevent them from being absorbed by the body.

Activated charcoal is used to treat certain types of chemical poisonings.

Activated charcoal has also been used in alternative medicine as an aid in treating gas and indigestion.

It is not certain whether activated charcoal is effective in treating any medical condition. Medicinal use of this product has not been approved by the FDA. Activated charcoal should not be used in place of medication prescribed for you by your doctor.

Activated charcoal is often sold as an herbal supplement. There are no regulated manufacturing standards in place for many herbal compounds and some marketed supplements have been found to be contaminated with toxic metals or other drugs. Herbal/health supplements should be purchased from a reliable source to minimize the risk of contamination.

Activated charcoal may also be used for purposes not listed in this product guide.

Warnings

Follow all directions on the product label and package. Tell each of your healthcare providers about all your medical conditions, allergies, and all medicines you use.

Before taking this medicine

Do not use this product without medical advice to treat poisoning. Activated charcoal may cause more serious problems if used to treat poisoning caused by certain chemicals such as turpentine, lye, strong acids, kerosene, gasoline, paint thinner, cleaning fluid, or furniture polish.

Ask a doctor, pharmacist, or other healthcare provider if it is safe for you to use this product for other conditions if you have ever had:

  • slow digestion; or

  • a blockage in your digestive tract (stomach or intestines).

Ask a doctor before using this product if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

If possible during an emergency, tell your medical caregivers if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Do not give any herbal/health supplement to a child without medical advice.

How should I take activated charcoal?

Call the Poison Help line at 1-800-222-1222 before using activated charcoal to treat a poisoning.

When considering the use of activated charcoal, seek the advice of your doctor. You may also consider consulting a practitioner who is trained in the use of herbal/health supplements.

If you choose to use activated charcoal, use it as directed on the package or as directed by your doctor, pharmacist, or other healthcare provider. Do not use more of this product than is recommended on the label.

Shake the oral suspension (liquid). Measure a dose with the supplied measuring device (not a kitchen spoon).

Swallow the tablet or capsule whole and do not crush, chew, break, or open it.

The granules or powder must be mixed with liquid before you swallow them.

To treat a poisoning in a person who has been given ipecac syrup to cause vomiting, wait until the person has vomited before given activated charcoal.

Do not attempt to treat poisoning in a person who is having seizures or is not fully conscious. Seek emergency medical help right away.

To treat indigestion or gas, activated charcoal is usually taken right before meals or after eating foods that might cause stomach discomfort. Use exactly as directed on the label, or as prescribed by your doctor.

Store at room temperature away from moisture and heat.

What happens if I miss a dose?

Activated charcoal is used when needed. If you are on a dosing schedule, skip any missed dose. Do not use two doses at one time.

What happens if I overdose?

Seek emergency medical attention or call the Poison Help line at 1-800-222-1222.

What should I avoid while taking activated charcoal?

Avoid drinking alcohol.

Activated charcoal side effects

Get emergency medical help if you have signs of an allergic reaction: hives; difficult breathing; swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.

Although not all side effects are known, activated charcoal is thought to be likely safe for most people when used for a short period of time, and possibly safe when used long term.

Call your doctor at once if you have:

Common side effects may include:

  • constipation; or

  • black stools.

This is not a complete list of side effects and others may occur. Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects. You may report side effects to FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088.

Activated charcoal dosing information

Usual Adult Dose for Gastrointestinal Decontamination:

Single dose: 50 to 100 grams orally
Multiple dose: 50 to 100 grams orally every 4 to 6 hours

Usual Adult Dose for Flatulence:

200 mg oral capsules: 1 or 2 capsules orally daily

Charcocaps(R): 2 capsules orally; repeat every 2 hours as needed
Maximum dose: 16 capsules per day

Usual Pediatric Dose for Gastrointestinal Decontamination:

Under 1 year old, single dose: 1 gram/kg orally
Under 1 year old, multiple dose: 1 gram/kg orally every 4 to 6 hours

1 to 12 years, single dose: 25 to 50 grams orally
1 to 12 years, multiple dose: 25 to 50 grams orally every 4 to 6 hours

12 and older, single dose: 50 to 100 grams orally
12 and older, multiple dose: 50 to 100 grams orally every 4 to 6 hours

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What other drugs will affect activated charcoal?

Activated charcoal can make it harder for your body to absorb other medicines you take by mouth. Take your activated charcoal dose at least 1 to 2 hours before or after taking other medicines by mouth.

Other drugs may affect activated charcoal, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and herbal products. Tell your doctor about all other medicines you use.

Further information

  • Consult with a licensed healthcare professional before using any herbal/health supplement. Whether you are treated by a medical doctor or a practitioner trained in the use of natural medicines/supplements, make sure all your healthcare providers know about all of your medical conditions and treatments.

Remember, keep this and all other medicines out of the reach of children, never share your medicines with others, and use this medication only for the indication prescribed.

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.