Activated charcoal, also called activated carbon or active carbon as all terms are used interchangeably, is used in many toxicology applications due to its ability to bind to many elements.
How is active charcoal made?
Activated charcoal is made by burning carbon rich, natural materials such as wood, coconut shells, bamboo, coal, or olive pits in low oxygen concentrations. During this process, hydrogen is extracted, along with tar and methane which reduces its weight and leaves a black mostly carbon substance. This remaining charcoal substance is then activated by mixing with certain chemical substances or steaming at very high temperatures to eliminate remaining non carbon elements.
This leaves a final material which is extremely porous with little nooks and crannies and binds to many elements. Activated carbon soaks up other elements like a sponge and can be made into various forms such as fabric or sponge material, a cube, pill, or powder.
How Activated Charcoal Works
Activated charcoal binds to chemicals and toxins as the porosity of activated carbon allows for the adsorption of various substances. With adsorption, ions, atoms or molecules from a liquid, gas or dissolved solid are adhered to a surface. Activated charcoal works by collecting molecules that bind to the external surface, as opposed to absorption in which elements permeate and are dissolved into a liquid or solid, the absorbent. Activated carbon has a negative charge so that positive charged elements and toxins attach to it.
Because activated charcoal binds to chemicals and toxins, it can be useful for various applications and processes.
Uses of Activated Charcoal
Activated charcoal is useful in many internal and topical applications such as:
- Water filtration systems
- Poison control and overdose treatment
- Teeth whitening
- Medication disposal systems
The use of activated charcoal in medicine and health is not a new discovery as the earliest documented clinical use dates back to the early 1800s to prevent poisoning. Other records show that Egyptians used charcoal to help treat and absorb odors from wound infections as far back as 1500 BC.
Activated Carbon in Water Treatment
According to an article in Science Daily, How US sewage plants can remove medicines from wastewater, activated carbon is an effective method of wastewater treatment to remove the concentration of pharmaceuticals including certain antibiotics and antidepressants by more than 95%. The article references a separate study in 2017 in which high concentrations of antidepressants were found in the brains of numerous fish in the Great Lakes region of the Niagara River.
Pharmaceuticals discharged from water treatment plants that enter the environment can be consumed by wildlife, and scientists still do not fully understand the ecological and behavioral impacts of human medicine remnants on wild animals over time. Pharmaceutical buildup in water supplies can also lead to antibiotic resistance which is a growing concern in the United States. Water treatment plants that implement activated carbon treatment methods can have an effective method of removing persistent pharmaceuticals from wastewater.
Poison Control and Overdose Treatment
One of the most common uses of activated charcoal is for emergency toxin removal to treat a poisoning or overdose. Proper dosing must be administered immediately, anyone suffering a poisoning should call 911 immediately and not try to self-treat with activated charcoal. Activated charcoal can be helpful in treating life-threatening poisonings resulting from ingesting various medications including acetaminophen, aspirin, amitriptyline, verapamil, and various other sources of poisoning.
Activated charcoal should not be used to eliminate some substances which may be considered caustic, very acidic or very alkaline. When toxic substances adsorb to activated carbon, it is flushed out of the system and washed away taking the toxins and chemicals with it.
Activated Charcoal in Skincare
Many charcoal skincare treatments are available in the form of face masks and cleansers to absorb surface oils, toxins, dirt and to treat insect bites or acne. Activated charcoal does not absorb things it comes in contact with and cannot draw out toxins from the body although it can be used to adsorb oils from the skin. One thing to be aware of is that activated charcoal cannot distinguish between the good or bad substances and could adsorb both unhealthy and healthy oils from the skin. Charcoal skincare masks should only be used once or twice a week.
Activated Charcoal in Medication Disposal Systems
Activated charcoal is an effective method of pharmaceutical waste disposal and is ideal for removing small, molecular organic compounds. Rx Destroyer™ is a pharmaceutical waste product that utilizes activated carbon which begins breaking down medications on contact. Activated carbon is a form of chemical destruction that is recognized in DEA standards. As soon as medications are added to the Rx Destroyer™ product containing the activated carbon slurry, the risk of environmental harm is reduced, and drug diversion is discouraged.
C2R Global manufactures a wide selection of Rx Destroyer™ products to meet the needs of any facility. You can find Rx Destroyer™ products being used in pharmacies, hospitals, healthcare clinics, veterinary clinics, correctional facilities, and more. Contact us to learn more about pharmaceutical waste disposal with activated charcoal.