Medicinal Uses for Activated Charcoal

C. Davis
By C. Davis January 5, 2018 07:51

Medicinal Uses for Activated Charcoal

By Claude Davis

Many preppers swear by activated charcoal. Well, why not? It’s an incredibly versatile substance. You can make chemical warfare filters with it, use it to purify water and put it on your toothbrush to whiten your teeth. Most of all, though, it’s a great addition to any home medical kit.

Activated charcoal can treat a range of problems, particularly digestive ones.

Here are seven of its top medical uses:


Diarrhea is unpleasant, and even at the best of times a bout of it will make it hard to get on with your life. If it’s not the best of times, diarrhea can kill. In fact it’s one of the biggest killers in the world – the UN estimate that about 1.5 million people, mostly children, die from it every year. Diarrhea causes dehydration, and if you can’t rehydrate fast enough it can end with kidney or heart failure.

In a survival situation there are many things that can cause diarrhea, from dirty water to radiation, and it’s often going to be hard to tackle the underlying cause. You can deal with the symptoms, though. Six times a day, mix a tablespoon of powdered activated charcoal into a glass of water and drink it. This will reduce or stop the diarrhea, preventing dangerous fluid loss.

Some people will suggest a charcoal poultice applied to the stomach. Don’t do this; it’s magical thinking and won’t have any effect. Charcoal is a well-proven remedy for diarrhea, but it needs to be taken internally.

Related: 5 Home Remedies for Diarrhea


The secret to activated charcoal’s effectiveness is its ability to soak up huge quantities of other chemicals. That makes it an obvious choice for treating cases of poisoning, and it can be very good at this. Poisoning is always a danger, especially if you have young children – no matter how careful you are, there’s always a risk they’ll manage to get at something toxic and drink it. Adults are at risk too, though, especially in an emergency situation. What if an industrial accident contaminates your water, and you realize the problem right after drinking a big glass of it?

Charcoal can’t do anything about poison that’s already been absorbed into your body, but it can soak up any that’s still in your stomach. If you do that, the poisoning won’t get any worse and you can get started on treating the existing symptoms. If you start the treatment as soon as you realize someone’s drunk poison you might even prevent symptoms altogether.

To treat poisoning, take four to six activated charcoal capsules or a tablespoon of charcoal as soon as possible, then repeat the dose every ten minutes until you can get medical help or the symptoms start to disappear. Capsules are better for treating poisoning, as all the charcoal will get to the stomach quickly. If the patient swallowed a corrosive liquid, like bleach, powder is best.

Related: 23 Medicinal Plants the Native Americans Used on a Daily Basis

Insect bites and stings

You don’t have to swallow poison for it to get into your body; there are plenty of insects and spiders that will be quite happy to inject some for you. Most of the time that’s just irritating,  but some insect stings can be incredibly painful – anyone who’s had a run-in with yellowjackets knows this – and there are a few spiders whose bite can be lethal. Any pharmacy will sell you a range of products designed to reduce the pain of bites and stings – but only activated charcoal will actually remove poison from the bite. If you apply it to the affected area, its natural absorbency will draw poison out through the puncture; you won’t get all of it, but the more you remove, the less the effects of the sting will be.

It’s easy to make your own charcoal-based anti-sting balm, but if you don’t have any, plain powdered charcoal will also work. Just place about half a teaspoon on the bite, then cover it with a Band-Aid to hold it in place. It doesn’t take much charcoal; the important thing is that it’s in direct contact with the site of the sting.


Intestinal gas can be amusing – it’s a popular subject of schoolboy humor. It can also be irritating and embarrassing for the sufferer. If there are a few people living in a cramped emergency bunker it can be pretty irritating for everyone else, too.

Gas is caused by chemicals in the intestines, and charcoal can absorb them. One or two capsules, or a teaspoon of powdered charcoal, will usually be enough to resolve the problem. It sounds minor, but it can make a big difference to the air quality in your bunker, Nobody wants to be permanently surrounded by stale bowel gas.

Related: The Hidden Truth About Taking Expired Medications

Bowel disease

There are a few bowel diseases that can make life very unpleasant for sufferers. Crohn’s Disease, ileitis and ulcerative colitis are all nasty conditions that can be miserable to live with. Activated charcoal can’t cure them, but it can reduce the inflammation that causes much of the discomfort. If you regularly take charcoal you can reduce symptoms, making it much easier to get on with your life.

The easiest way to use charcoal for bowel disease is to just take one or two capsules, or a teaspoon of powder, with every meal. This will give it a chance to draw out the toxins that cause inflammation, which will then be carried out of the body.

Dental infections

Dental problems can cause absolute misery – and, if you can’t get to a dentist, there isn’t a lot you can do about them. The good news is activated charcoal can help reduce the pain of some of the worst conditions. If you have an abscess, for example, the charcoal will draw out some of the inflammatory agents from it, reducing the swelling and alleviating the pain.

To treat dental problems make a poultice from charcoal powder wrapped in a piece of sterile, tightly-woven cloth. The thinner the cloth, the better. Hold it in place over the abscess until the swelling starts to go down. A charcoal poultice will also reduce the pain from a broken tooth.

RelatedDental Care after SHTF


Acid indigestion won’t kill you, but it can feel like it’s going to. It can even be mistaken for the symptoms of a heart attack. It’s caused by too much acid in the stomach, which then escapes up into the esophagus. Common symptoms are pain, vomiting and a loss of appetite. Long-term the best way to avoid it is to watch your diet, don’t over-eat and don’t drink too much fluid with meals, but that’s not a lot of help if you’re suffering now. Time for activated charcoal to rescue you.

A tablespoon of charcoal will absorb excess stomach acid, quickly relieving the symptoms. It’s better to use powdered charcoal to treat heartburn; capsules will dissolve in the stomach, but powder will also help soak up any acid that’s already escaped into the esophagus.

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C. Davis
By C. Davis January 5, 2018 07:51
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  1. diane January 5, 15:28

    i was hoping this article actually taught how to make activated charcoal. i’ve never made charcoal and have no ready access to wood to make it, but i would like to know how. also, how do you “reactivate” charcoal if it’s been used as a filtering agent say for water?

    Reply to this comment
    • Chris January 5, 18:21

      The Book “The lost ways II” has a section on how to make it. I have both books and love them!

      Reply to this comment
    • DennisC55 January 8, 00:50

      First, Charcoal is charcoal is charcoal. I asked this very question when I took General Chemistry in college. Here’s the answer: Charcoal is made by burning wood in the absence of oxygen and this is achieved naturally by the fire burning down to coals and the ash smothering the coals and the coals continuing to burn and eventually go out producing the charcoal. To make “activated” charcoal, all need to do is crush it to powder or even smaller chunks. What the crushing does is increase the surface area of each bit, chunk, particle of charcoal so the charcoal has more surface area to more chemically react with other chemical substances.

      Reply to this comment
    • Ole Denny January 8, 01:08

      First, Charcoal is charcoal is charcoal. I asked this very question when I took General Chemistry in college. Here’s the answer: Charcoal is made by burning wood in the absence of oxygen and this is achieved naturally by the fire burning down to coals and the ash smothering the coals and the coals continuing to burn and eventually go out producing the charcoal. To make “activated” charcoal, all need to do is crush it to powder or even smaller chunks. What the crushing does is increase the surface area of each bit, chunk, particle of charcoal so the charcoal has more surface area to more chemically react with other chemical substances. You have to separate the ash from the charcoal which I use a regular kitchen strainer which gets the majority of the ash. Also keep the ash which has many good uses. Once I completed the sifting, there is still some wood ash on the charcoal pieces and I use a 5-gallon bucket and put the charcoal pieces in the bucket and fill the bucket enough to more than cover the charcoal pieces and some will float and let it soak for a few days or however long it takes to achieve ‘pure black” clean charcoal and then dry out the pieces and crush the charcoal to powder. DO NOT use BBQ charcoal briquettes as these have other toxic chemicals in them

      Reply to this comment
  2. diane January 5, 15:29

    whoops. the title said medicinal uses. “head slap” guess i need some caffeine.

    Reply to this comment
  3. left coast chuck January 5, 17:43

    Valid question, Diane. Don’t head slap yourself too much.
    Where does one obtain “activated” charcoal? Lowe’s Home Depot? CVS Pharmacy?

    What makes it “activated” versus inactivated charcoal?

    Is the charcoal one buys for one’s barbecue activated or is it inactivated?

    I know how to make charcoal, basically, although I have always taken the easy route and purchased it. How do I make charcoal that is probably inactive, active?

    Taking a teaspoonful of powdered charcoal sounds like gag city to me. Capsules would work. That sounds like the answer to one of my questions is: CVS. But, can I buy a 40 pound bag of charcoal at Home Depot and a bunch of gelatin capsules form Amazon and somehow make my own “activated” charcoal?

    If I am doing the home grown routine, does some wood make better or more easily activated charcoal than other types of wood? Hardwoods make the best charcoal, with oak and mesquite being leading types. Does apple wood or persimmon wood or orange wood work as well? How about eucalyptus. We have lots of that in SoCal and with the recent fires, some folks are giving their eucalyptus trees the evil eye, together with the ubiquitous palm which burns very nicely and is not native.

    Reply to this comment
    • Homesteader January 5, 18:04

      Left, isn’t the charcoal that is sold at places like Home Depot, etc. coated with something to help it catch fire? That doesn’t sound like something I would want to take internally. I’ve seen bags of charcoal that say something like “pure wood charcoal”. Is that the kind you use?

      Reply to this comment
      • Jugband January 6, 00:43

        One of the rules for making Black Powder is to not use Home Depot charcoal briquets, and the reason is exactly what you describe. Charcoal is crushed to a fine powder then mixed with binders (essentially glue) to pressure-form it into briquets.

        In addition, some brands DO add solvents to aid in starting them on fire.

        You CAN buy bbq charcoal which is just pure charcoal, called “lump cuarcoal”, and Home Depot carries it and so does Lowe’s.

        Look for something like “Cowboy Charcoal 18-lb Lump Charcoal $15.99” No chemicals or fillers added – just authentic, natural wood for the best flavor

        Lowe’s carries it, and Home Depot carries about 4 brands of lump charcoal.

        Making your own isn’t a big deal. Poke a hole(s) in the top of an airtight container (like a paint can) and heat it over some kind of propane burner, wood fire, etc. Youtube videos abound.

        Also, pyrotechnic sites sell powdered charcoal for making black powder, like . and

        Reply to this comment
    • diane January 5, 18:25

      i’m glad i had swallowed my tea before i saw your reply, as my jaw dropped, and then i laughed (i would have choked if the tea was still in my mouth). i swear you are my twin from another mother as we often seem to mesh ideas/questions (in my mind anyway, lol). i have also wondered what makes charcoal active vs inactive, and all that you also have referenced above. the little filter used in home pitchers (brita, et al) are expensive and once “done” must be discarded, unless you can somehow reactive the charcoal in the filter. i also had not given much thought to whether or not any native wood, or any scavenged wood, would be usable either.

      taking a teaspoon of dry charcoal does sound like a gagging/coughing fit on a spoon, rather like the cinnamon challenge rampant on the internet not too long ago. i’d rather use eucalyptus wood to keep warm, as the oil doesn’t taste good, but might mitigate the smoke inhalation (or is that wishful thinking, ha) by acting as a bronchial dilator. but i live in the largest city in illinois with no easy access to water (hence my question on another article about water/urine filtration), .or wood in a shtf situation, and mere blocks from the fire station. i can only imagine the dirty looks i’d get from the firemen if i tried making charcoal in the backyard (the smoke would be a beacon to all). i’ve already had vermin inspectors stop by for rodent eradication and inspect my compost and wood pile. i explained i had a wood burning stove (house is over a century and been in the family since it was built–second one on the block) and the wood was seasoning for burning, and that we had pretty much given up on composting as the rodents (incl squirrel and mice) had chewed up my bin. he opened the lid to reveal nothing but compacted dirt (had ignored it for years). just grass clippings/weeds go in there now. and i consider dill a weed when it starts taking over the garden (every year). i’t not call dill weed for nothing, let me tell you!

      Reply to this comment
      • l.c.c. January 5, 18:40

        Diane: How far is Lake Michigan from your house?

        Yeah, I suspect if you start making charcoal in the backyard if you don’t get a visit from the FD you will certainly get one from the ACPD. The days of burning leaves in the fall out in front of the house or in the yard so that the ashes would enrich the soil come spring time are long gone in most parts of the country I am afraid. You can’t believe some of the idiotic comments coming from the mouths of city officials with the sheeple nodding and saying “Uh Uh Uh.” No washing down of roofs, patios and driveways. The “toxic” ash might drain to the ocean. Of course, no one has said that the emperor is buck naked. We are expected to have a moderate rainstorm this coming week. Duhhhh. Guess where all the storm drains empty? Guess where all the ash is going to end up anyway? The other gem is “No leaf blowers until the emergency is over.” What? The fire is going to restart burning all the burned out houses? The “emergency” is over. Don’t they realize all the motor vehicle traffic stirs up more of the “toxic” dust than all the gardeners with all their leaf blowers on full blast? Well, this forum isn’t for my soap box rants so I will quit.

        I hope some cognoscenti will enlighten us about activated charcoal.

        Reply to this comment
        • diane January 5, 18:48

          the lake is miles away as is the nearest river. and i live in illinois the sister state of the land of fruit and nuts. feel free to rant. although, by definition, no cognoscenti will enlighten us on this topic (other than direct us to the info, which is acceptable) as i suspect that putting it in writing would be a bit much.

          Reply to this comment
          • J March 25, 02:13

            Activate Charcoal can be bought at WallMart or any pet store that caries supplies for fish tanks. I’ve never made it but have read that charcoal without any chemicals in it is used. Get the charcoal covered with ash (no chemicals used) When total covered with ash cut off all oxygen and leave until cold then pulverize with hammer. I know nothing about it except what I read. I buy it at Wall-Mart pet supply near the fish tanks.

            Reply to this comment
            • A.E. January 25, 17:45

              You can buy charcoal capsules in any pharmacy where I live.
              Also, there is a minimal very scant amount of charcoal in those Britta Filters. I opened one once, and could not believe they could actually say there was charcoal in them, as it is mostly latex pellets. So I purchased a bottle of charcoal from the health food store, and I now fill my own with that.

              Reply to this comment
  4. spokunfor January 5, 18:13

    I’d like to know as well…thanks

    Reply to this comment
    • l.c.c. January 5, 19:39

      I googled How To Make Activated Charcoal At Home.

      There is a web page that describes making activated charcoal. In short the answer is: Don’t. Buy a bunch of it and store it correctly and it will last a very long time.

      For water purification purposes they recommend just plain old charcoal. If you want to read the page yourself, and I recommend it, it was posted by Charcoal House LLC. I would search How to make activated charcoal at home.

      It is too long to copy and paste here, although I intend to print it out for my own purposes. Very informative and from a source that I think probably is authoritative.

      Reply to this comment
  5. left coast chuck January 5, 18:28

    I haven’t checked charcoal this year but in past years you could either get the quick light or just plain old garden variety charcoal charcoal. I always purchased garden variety as I have used a chimney for lighting charcoal for many years and prefer it over the POL odor that emanates from the quick light type. So I guess the short answer to your questions is I use pure wood charcoal. The briquettes, quick light or not, are, I believe, made out of compressed sawdust. Nothing wrong with that except that if you are trying to achieve a certain flavor from the wood, the sawdust is most likely not from a single type of wood but whatever wood the sawmill cuts up. They are okay for G.P. cooking or heating water or something, but if you are trying to achieve that oak wood pit barbecue flavor you can’t get it with charcoal briquettes.

    Reply to this comment
    • left coast chuck January 5, 22:59

      I only know what I read on the Charcoal House website. They said it is possible to make activated charcoal at home and that there are various u-tube clips on how to do it. However, they said that all the chemicals one might need to make activated charcoal are either: caustic, toxic (like chlorine gas) highly flammable or explosive. The least caustic chemical they mentioned was phosphoric acid. But they said the charcoal then needs heavy duty washing to be sure to remove all the phosphoric acid from the charcoal. While I know they are in the business of selling activated charcoal, their page seemed like solid advice.

      Reply to this comment
  6. Clergylady January 5, 22:16

    Pharmacy sell packets of powdered activated charcoal. Fish supply areas have activated charcoal for the filters.
    Don’t use BBQ charcoal as it has chemicals and lighter enhancements.
    Sticks tightly packed in a metal container placed so you build a hot fire surrounding and over it can leave charcoal inside when the bonfire is done.
    Grandpa built tightly packed bundles of tied 1″ sticks about 3′ tall and 12-15″ around…. pack those teepee style leaving an area to light in the middle. He then covered it with 6-8″ of dry dirt leaving an opening to light the fire in the middle. Just a tiny smoke opening in the top. Light the fire and let it get well established then close up most of that opening as well. Burning and smoldering for hours left a lot of useable charcoal. The charcoal and damp maple or apple wood were the source of smoke in his smokehouse.
    Dad used powdered charcoal from the pharmacy to help him stop diarrhea. We had it in our home as far back as the 1950s. It helped clear out food poisoning too. I Must say a black mouth looks a bit funny.

    Reply to this comment
    • left c.c. January 5, 23:03

      One of the website I visited said to use a 55 gal. drum, turn it on its side, fill it with wood, put the lid on and leave the bung hole open. put the thing over a fire pit and let it smoke away. You will wind up with less than a 55 gal. drum of charcoal when done but they said that was the simplest manner. Pretty much what clergy lady’s grandpa used to do except he used dirt instead of a 55 gal. drum.

      Reply to this comment
  7. PB January 5, 22:46 or http://www.buyactivatedcharcoal,com These websites is worth looking at if you want to know more. I bought the book called charcoal remedies by John Dinsley off one the websites several years back which he owns. It was very informative book on how to make and all the medical uses it is good for. Activated charcoal can be used as poultices for snake bites, spider bites, bee stings. It is also good for drug poisoning and overdoses since it is a staple in Emergency Rooms. It is good for detoxing the body . They use to have videos on how to make a slurry to drink. That might still be on you tube. When I am not using the activated charcoal I use calcium bentonite clay. I wish he sold clay on his website too.

    Reply to this comment
  8. Jerry January 6, 01:11

    The air to water device has been touted for years, yet it remains a product of questionable use or value. If it can’t remain anything but some blueprints being sold with no data such as how much water in how many hours etc. If it is that good then why not market the ready made or sell all the parts along with info for all of it?

    Reply to this comment
    • left coast chuck January 6, 03:12

      Jerry: As I understand it, the air to water device is just a plain old dehumidifier. You can buy commercial ones from a hundred different vendors. While I hesitate to use the word “scam”, some of the items advertised are of questionable value. I have learned to never buy from any company that uses the on-line credit card processing company. Sorry, the name eludes me at this precise moment. It is not Pay Pal, but another lesser known processor.

      Reply to this comment
  9. Lauren January 6, 05:16

    Awesome article! Thanks! My husband made activated charcoal and I’m going to get capsules to put some of it in for easy use. Great ideas for my medical/first aid prep kit.

    Reply to this comment
  10. Frank January 6, 15:54

    I ordered “The lost Ways 2” yesterday, but no reply from the site as to whether it was purchased or not.

    Reply to this comment
    • left coast chuck January 6, 20:02

      Call your credit card company and cancel the payment. They use ClikBank, don’t they? There may be honest vendors using ClikBank or Click Bank but my experience to date has proven otherwise. I did get a refund from my credit card company after several months but that was only due to the fact that I had been with them since the credit card company started up in business. My experience is limited as I have only made three purchases that did not work out before I stopped dealing with vendors who used that credit card service company.

      Others may have had highly satisfactory transactions with Click Bank vendors. I can only report what I have experienced and what my course of action was as a result of those experiences.

      Reply to this comment
  11. Teacher Millie January 6, 23:17

    If you are going to take activated charcoal internally, it should be 1 hour before or 2 hours after you eat anything or take supplements. Otherwise you will be robbing yourself of nutrients.

    Reply to this comment
  12. benjamin January 9, 02:02

    I ordered food grade activated charcoal, I see many instances where it is put in vegi-caps and some where you mix with water and some taken dry, which is the best way and most efficient way to take?

    Reply to this comment
  13. benjamin January 9, 15:24

    Thank you Lauren, I may do that also but just taking it in a glass of water was my thinking but not sure of the taste. I hope the one I purchased is good $10.50 a pound bag thought would give it a try.

    Reply to this comment
  14. benjamin January 9, 21:23

    yep that’s the way to go, but already bought some, will see how it works when I do, thanks Lauren

    Reply to this comment
  15. benjamin January 10, 20:11

    Hello again, thanks for all the good input and information. I received my activated charcoal powder today and see that it is virgin activated charcoal power derived from Coconut shell what is the difference from other activated charcoal? I assume this is safe to ingest?

    thank you

    Reply to this comment
    • lcc January 16, 04:23

      As you can tell from my earlier posts, I am certainly no charcoal expert. However, since reading this article I have read up on charcoal a little. Apparently coconut charcoal is supposed to make superior activated charcoal due to having a lot more air spaces in it than activated charcoal made from other substances. More air spaces means it can grab more of the substances you are trying to filter out. Now you know everything I know about activated coconut charcoal which admittedly is not a whole heck of a lot.

      Reply to this comment
  16. WriterDesigner September 4, 02:14

    You can buy activated charcoal at any health food store, or Whole Foods, or at online retailers that sell vitamins, like Vitaccost and others. Always good to keep a bottle of capsules on hand. However, must caution that the charcoal will absorb not just bad things, but all of your good nutrients as well. Do not take your vitamins and charcoal at the same time. Give your body several hours to absorb your vitamins/supplements before taking charcoal or you will have wasted them. Save your charcoal for an emergency.

    Reply to this comment
  17. Me January 26, 01:27


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