Listen up! We’re on a mission to prove that charcoal is awesome. It’s more than a hokey, messy natural remedy for jungle folk and tree huggers. In fact, activated charcoal is used in nearly every hospital in the United States.
So then, what’s charcoal doing in the hospital, stored between pill bottles and gauze? It’s used for emergency poison treatment because charcoal’s adsorptive nature prevents poison from being absorbed from the stomach into the body.
Okay, what kind of poison does charcoal not treat?
We love charcoal, but here’s a fair warning that it doesn’t adsorb every single poison out there. Here’s where you’ll need something different:
- corrosive agents such as alkalis (lye),
- strong acids,
- boric acid,
- petroleum products (fuel oils, gasoline, kerosene, paint thinner, and cleaning fluid),
- or alcohols have been swallowed since it doesn’t prevent these poisons from being absorbed into the body.
How quickly does charcoal act?
During the “activation” process of charcoal, which includes a lot of heating to high temps, charcoal gains an interesting shape, including scores of tiny crevices and craters that increase its binding surface area – dramatically.
Actually, the binding surface expands so much that one teaspoon of activated charcoal has about the same surface area as an entire football field. The relevance of this? Well, it doesn’t take lot of activated charcoal to make a big difference. Charcoal, especially activated, is powerful.
Charcoal’s efficacy for poisoning is dependent on two things:
- How quickly it’s given
- The poisonous substance that was swallowed.
The key is to ingest or apply the charcoal quickly. The quicker you act after poisoning, the better it’ll work.
Charcoal was being used to reverse poisoning in 1813. French chemist Gabriel Bertrand drank a super deadly slurry of 5 grams of arsenic trioxide, mixed it with charcoal…and survived. #hero
Since Bertrand’s demonstration, charcoal has continued to be used for poisoning in hospitals and is now rated Category 1 “safe and effective” by the FDA for toxic poisoning.
* Another warning: If you ever get poisoned (we really hope not), the very best thing to do is get your sick self straight to the hospital! Charcoal is best used by people who know how to use it, so definitely put your life in the hands of the doctors who know how to take care of you.
 FAO The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015 p. 8
 Parks, Naomi. “What Is Overnutrition and Undernutrition?” Livestrong. 18 Aug. 2011. Web. 16 May 2012.
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 Health Risks Linked to Obesity http://www.webmd.com/diet/obesity/obesity-health-risks#1
 The GBD 2015 Obesity Collaborators. “Health Effects of Overweight and Obesity in 195 Countries over 25 Years — NEJM.” Health Effects of Overweight and Obesity in 195 Countries over 25 Years, 6 July 2017, pp. 13–27., doi:10.1056/NEJMoa1614362.