Another Side Of Activated Charcoal

 

 

By Atom Bergstrom

Atom’s Blog

Vibrant Gal and I keep a bottle of activated charcoal in our medicine cabinet in case of poisoning.

It’s also known as activated carbon.

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James G. Busse (“Experiments You Can Make with Amazing Activated Charcoal,” Popular Science, Aug. 1971) wrote …

“What is so porous that a mere handful of it has a surface area equal to the square footage of a football field? Answer: a handful of granular activated carbon, a highly versatile and useful modern material.”

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Activated charcoal is called the Universal Antidote because it can neutralize thousands of poisons, such as …

acetaminophen, aflatoxins, amphetamines, antidepressants, aspirin, barbiturates, beta-blocking agents, camphor, chlorine, cocaine, DDT, diphtheria toxin, endotoxins, hemlock, iodine, lead acetate, malathion, mercuric chloride, mercury, methyl salicylate, morphine, mushroom amatoxin, nicotine, opium, parathion, penicillin, pentobarbital, phenol, phosphorus, radioactive elements, secobarbital, selenium, silver, tetanus toxin, THC, tin, venom, and yew, to mention a select few.

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Personally, we wouldn’t take activated charcoal daily, weekly, monthly, or habitually.

Side effects can occur, the least of which are constipation, electrolyte imbalance, and vitamin and mineral depletion.

Mid-range side effects are nausea, gagging, and vomiting.

More serious is gastrointestinal blockage (requiring surgery).

Long-range use may increase the chances of cancer, depending on the source of the charcoal and its manufacturing process.

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According to the handling instructions (Material Safety Data Sheet) of one manufacturer (Santa Cruz Biotechnology, Inc.) …

“There has been some concern that this material can cause cancer or mutations but there is not enough data to make an assessment. Limited evidence suggests that repeated or long-term occupational exposure may produce cumulative health effects involving organs or biochemical systems.”

According to the same source …

“The material has NOT been classified as ‘harmful by ingestion.’ This is because of the lack of corroborating animal or human evidence. The material may still be damaging to the health of the individual, following ingestion, especially where pre-existing organ (e.g. liver, kidney) damage is evident. Present definitions of harmful or toxic substances are generally based on doses producing mortality (death) rather than those producing morbidity (disease, ill-health). Gastrointestinal tract discomfort may produce nausea and vomiting.”

According to the same source …

“Entry into the blood stream, through, for example, cuts, abrasions or lesions, may produce systemic injury with harmful effects. Examine the skin prior to the use of the material and ensure that any external damage is suitably protected.”

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Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop (her weekly lifestyle publication and e-commerce shop) seems to have started the activated charcoal craze by calling “charcoal lemonade” one of the “best juice cleanses.”

Now “Black is the New Green,” with companies like Juice Generation selling Activated Lemonade, Activated Greens, and Activated Protein; and LuliTonix selling Black Magic (lemon, water, maple syrup, sea salt, and charcoal).

Dr. Oz was not impressed with activated charcoal on his TV show. He advised against taking it.

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According to “Position Paper: Single-Dose Activated Charcoal,” by the American Academy of Clinical Toxicology and European Association of Poisons Centres and Clinical Toxicologists …

“There are no reports of gastrointestinal obstruction, constipation or hemorrhagic rectal ulceration associated with single-dose activated charcoal therapy.”

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Harry Marsh & Francisco Rodríguez-Reinoso (Activated Carbon, 2006) wrote …

“Activated carbon is porosity (space) enclosed by carbon atoms.”

“Central to activated carbon is the activation process which enhances the original porosity in a porous carbon. Activation uses carbon dioxide, steam, zinc chloride, phosphoric acid and hydroxides of alkali metals, each with its own activation chemistry.”

“Only a handful of resources are used for activated carbon production, including coals of several rank, peat (not quite a coal) as well as woods, fruit stones and nutshells, as with coconut shells, as well as some synthetic organic polymers. A key element is the reliability and constancy of the resource. Manufacturing processes are so finely tuned that variations in the quality of the resource are unacceptable.”

Glenn M. Roy (Activated Carbon Applications in the Food and Pharmaceutical Industries, 1995) wrote …

“Traditional feedstocks for the preparation of activated carbons are the char of mineral, vegetable, and animal origin. These numerous sources are coal, wood (beechwood, pine), peat, and agricultural byproducts such as nutshells and fruitpits, vegetable fibers, rice bran, and cereal. A variety of nutshells has been examined for activated carbon manufacture, including coconut, corozo nut, Brazil nut, betelnut, margosa, walnut, palmnut, acorn husks, almond nut, cashew nut, peanut, macadamia nut, pistachio nut, and hawthorn nut. The fruitpits include apricot, plum, olive, peach, and cherry pits. Peach pits offer an efficient activated carbon. The effect of processing conditions on the pore characteristics of activated carbons from peach pits was studied as charred and activated with HF [hydrofluoric acid], HCl [hydrochloric acid], hydrogen, and air. Activated carbons can be prepared using Novolac phenolic resins with pressed olive pits as fillers. The materials were mixed, cured, and carbonized at 1000°. The weight loss and shrinkage increase with olive pit content. Various grains and seed husks include rice, cottonseed shell, tallow tree seed shells Sapium sebiferum (L.) Roxb., wheat, sunflower, flaxseed, linseed, corn, soybean cake, apple marc, coffee grounds, jute stalk, distillery mash, grape marc, and bagasse. Grape or apple pomace, suspended in 25–40% sulfuric acid, may be pyrolyzed to a char at low temperature. Steam activation then results in activated carbons. Soybean curd refuse, when processed by press-solidifying and dry-distilling the solid for carbonization, makes a suitable low cost activated carbon. Chitin and chitosan were carbonized and aged at 250–350° in an electric furnace under a carbon dioxide stream. The resulting activated charcoal had a decolorizing efficiency of one-fifth to two-fifths that of a commercial charcoal and the deodorizing efficiency of one-half to one-third for vinegar and amine odors. However, the chitin-derived carbon product was 1.5–2.5 times better than the commercial charcoal for mercapto-ethanol adsorption. An activated carbon has been manufactured from the fermentation waste of sweet potato in citric acid production.”

The list goes on and on.

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Activated charcoal varies greatly in aD-sorption (not aB-sorption), measured by various standards, including …

iodine number

molasses number

hardness/abrasion number
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