Common Name(S): Activated charcoal, animal charcoal, charcoal, gas black, lamp black

Uses of Charcoal

Activated charcoal is used as an antidote to poisoning, as an antiflatulent and potentially as a treatment for reducing blood lipid concentrations in uremic and diabetic patients.

Source: Charcoal is produced by pyrolysis and high temperature oxidation of organic materials. Animal charcoal is obtained from charred bones, meat, blood, etc. "Activated" charcoal is obtained from charred wood or vegetable matter and treated with various substances to increase its adsorptive power. Amorphous carbons (or charcoals) are obtained from the incomplete combustion of natural gas, fats, oils or resins.

Side Effects of Charcoal

GI obstruction can develop in those receiving repeated doses.

Toxicology: Activated charcoal is used in hemoperfusion for the removal of toxins from the blood following acute overdose. In general, there is little toxicity associated with the charcoal component of hemoperfusion. The oral use of charcoal has been associated witth unwanted side effects. Gastrointestinal obstruction, in the form of "briquettes," has been observed in patients who have received repeated doses of charcoal. Other problems following the ingestion of charcoal preparatiors (in the form of a charcoal-sorbitol suspension) include hypernatremic dehydration and aspiration pneumonia. One drawback to the emergency use of oral charcoal is that adsorbed toxins may have the opportunity to dissociate from the charcoal and reenter the systenic circulation before the charcoal is excreted. Althoug charcoal given alone may slow gastric transit time, it is often coadministered with a laxative to hasten its evacuation. It is not clear what effect the long-term ingestion of charcoal preparations may have on vitamin levels. At least one pediatric report has focused on the pulmonar aspiration of activated charcoal as a complication of its misuse in overdose management.

Summary: Charcoal has been used in the treatment of toxic events for almost 100 years with a remarkable record of safety. It adsorbs a wide variety of toxic compounds and facilitates their gastrointestinal remove. Charcoal is also used in hemoperfusion to remove toxic material from the systemic circulation. Recent reports indicating that blood lipid levels may be beneficial) altered following the use of charcoal cannot be extrapolated to clinically useful therapeutic regimens until more is known about these effects.

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