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ALSO IN THIS ISSUE: Canada Red Cross Used HIV Blood
Charcoal is an amazing substance. It adsorbs more
War I; and it effectively counteracted poison gas.
poisons than any other substance known to mankind.
Bad odors, caused by skin ulcers, have been elimi-
It can adsorb lead acetate, strychnine, DDT, many
nated by placing charcoal-filled cloth over plastic casts.
drugs (including cocaine, iodine, penicillin, aspirin,
It has been used externally to effectively adsorb wound
phenobarbital), and inorganic substances (chlorine,
secretions, bacteria, and toxins. And, in poultices and
packs, it treats infections of the face, eyelids, skin, or
It can adsorb thousands of times its own weight in
extremities. It is one of the best substances in poul-
gases, heavy metals, poisons, and other chemicals;
tices for mushroom poisoning, insect stings, brown
thus it renders them ineffective and harmless.
recluse spider bites, black widow bites, and various
It can adsorb intestinal gas and deodorizes foul-
It is used in water purification, air purification,
Charcoal can do these various things because of
and for removing undesirable odors and impurities
its ability to attract other substances to its surface and
hold them there. This is called “adsorption” (not ab-
Charcoal is the most-used remedy when many dif-
sorption). Charcoal can adsorb thousands of times
ferent types of poisons may have been swallowed. It
its own weight in harmful substances. One teaspoon-
is also used for diarrhea and indigestion.
ful of it has a surface area of more than 10,000 square
It is used for jaundice of the newborn, poison oak
and ivy reactions, and many other illnesses.
The British medical journal, Lancet,
All research studies show charcoal to be harm-
amazing ability of the human skin to allow transfer of
less when it is accidently inhaled, swallowed, or in
liquids, gases, and even micro-particles through its
contact with the skin. (But if enough is swallowed, it
permeable membrane and pores, by the application
can cause a mild constipation.) No allergies to it have
of moist, activated charcoal compresses and poultices
been reported (10, 38). But it is best not to take char-
which actually draw bacteria and poisons through the
coal longer than 12 weeks without stopping. Do not
skin and into the poultice or compress! The article
take it regularly for long periods of time.
describes the use of charcoal compresses to speed
Charcoal from burned toast should never be used;
the healing of wounds and eliminate their odors. But
since substances are present which are carcinogenic.
the poultices must be kept moist and warm for this
Do not eat burned food. Charcoal briquettes are espe-
cially dangerous, because petro-chemicals have been
Ancient Egyptian doctors, as well as Hippocrates
(the Greek physician), recommended the use of char-
The most effective type of charcoal is the activated
coal for medicinal purposes. North American Indians
form. This process renders it 2 to 3 times as effective
used it for gas pains and skin infections. It eases in-
as regular charcoal. First, the charcoal is ground very
fine; and then it is placed in a steam chamber. This
A 1981 research study found that activated char-
opens up the charcoal and exposes more of its sur-
coal reduces the amount of gas produced by eating
beans and other gas-forming foods. It adsorbs the ex-
Modern medical science uses Activated Charcoal
cess gas, along with the bacteria which form the gas
a pure, naturally produced wood charcoal car-
bon that has no carcinogenic properties.
Activated charcoal helps eliminate bad breath,
It must be stored in a tightly sealed container, be-
because it cleanses both the mouth and the digestive
cause it readily adsorbs impurities from the atmo-
tract (38). It also helps to purify the blood (10, 38).
sphere. (Leaving the top off a container of charcoal
It relieves symptoms of nervous diarrhea, traveler’s
will partially purify the room it is in, to the degree that
diarrhea (turista), spastic colon, indigestion, and pep-
the air in the room comes in contact with the char-coal.)
tic ulcers. For such problems, take between 1-1½ table-spoons of powdered charcoal up to 3 times a day. Be-
Simply place some in water, stir, and swallow. Or
cause food will reduce its effectiveness, take it between
apply it to the skin’s surface. It is odorless and taste-
meals. Swirl the charcoal in a glass of water and then
less. Powdered, activated charcoal achieves maximum
drink it down; or mix it with olive oil and spoon it into
adsorption within a minute or so after absorption.
Charcoal can also be placed in empty gelatin cap-
Charcoal was placed in gas masks during World
sules and swallowed. (Gelatin is usually processed
from animals.) But they will act more slowly than swal-
2 - To treat poisonings in general, as well as over-
lowing the powder mixed with water. Charcoal can also
doses of aspirin, Tylenol, and other drugs (10, 30, 48,
be mixed with a little fruit juice before being swallowed;
49, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 62, 63).
but, of course, it will adsorb that also. This should
3 - To treat some forms of dysentery, diarrhea,
not be a problem if the juice is diluted or there is a
dyspepsia, and foot-and-mouth disease (20, 22, 24,
sufficient amount of charcoal in it.
Charcoal poultices that are kept moist and warm
4 - To disinfect and deodorize wounds (48, 50,
actually draw toxins and poisons out through the skin
tissue. This is because skin is a permeable membrane,
5 - To eliminate toxic by-products that cause ane-
which permits a variety of liquids and gases to enter
mia in cancer patients (33, 50, 54).
6 - To filter toxins from the blood in liver and kid-
Make the poultice just large enough to cover the
injured part. The paste may be made by mixing equal
7 - To purify blood in transfusions (48, 60, 65).
parts of flaxseed meal or corn starch with the acti-
Although activated charcoal can be used as an
vated charcoal, in a bowel, and then adding just enough
antidote in poisoning from most drugs and chemicals,
hot water to make a moderately thick paste. Then
it will not be effective against the following: cyanide,
spread the paste over a porous cloth, covering over
alcohol, caustic alkalies (such as lye), mineral acids,
the top with another layer of that same cloth.
or boric acids. Strong alkaline and acid poisons need
Place the poultice over the area to be treated and
to be treated with solutions with the opposite pH. For
cover it with a piece of plastic. Cover or wrap with a
example, until the ambulance arrives, calcium pow-
cloth, to hold it all in place. Secure by a tie, stretch
der in water will help offset acids and vinegar will help
offset alkalies. Consult a Poison Control Center (phone
Apply the poultice for 1 or 2 hours. If applied at
numbers are in the front of your phone book) or a
bedtime, leave it on overnight. Adsorption takes place
doctor immediately, for instructions and information
almost immediately. When it is removed, wash or gen-
in any poisoning emergency (10, 51, 52).
tly cleanse the area with cool water. Repeat when
When mixed with water and swallowed to coun-
needed. Poultices should, at the most, be changed ev-
teract poisoning, charcoal adsorbs the poison or drug,
ery 6-10 hours. Do not put charcoal directly on the
inactivating it. It then carries it inert through the en-
broken skin; because it may cause a tatooing effect,
tire length of the digestive tract and out of the body.
blackening the skin for a period of time (21, 23, 24,
Charcoal is not absorbed, adsorbed, neutralized, nor
metabolized by the body (6, 13, 47, 53).
Activated charcoal is required by law to be part of
In a poisoning emergency, if the victim is conscious,
the standard equipment on many ambulances, in case
first induce vomiting (unless he has swallowed an acid)
poisoning is encountered. It is the first choice of the
if it can be done quickly. Ipecac
is a commonly used
emetic. The dosage is ½ oz. for children and 1 oz. for
Scientific experiments, conducted over a period
adults. Induced vomiting will bring up about 30% of
of many years, attest to the effectiveness of charcoal
as an antidote. In one experiment, 100 times the le-
Then give the charcoal to help inactivate the re-
thal dose of cobra venom was mixed with charcoal
maining 70%. The usual dose is 5-50 grams of char-
and injected into a laboratory animal. The animal was
coal, depending on age and body size. Adults should
be given at least 30 grams (about half a cup of lightly
In other experiments, arsenic and strychnine were
packed powder), depending on the amount of poison
thoroughly mixed with charcoal and then swallowed
ingested. Larger doses will be needed if the person
by humans under laboratory conditions. The subjects
has eaten a meal recently. A dose of 200 grams (3½
survived, even though the poison dosages were 5 to
cups) is not excessive in cases of severe poisoning.
10 times the lethal dose (1, 3, 14, 16, 17, 38).
The charcoal will reach its maximum rate of adsorp-
Because medicinal drugs are chemical com-
tion within one minute. The sooner it is given, the more
pounds, they are all poisons to a greater or lesser de-
complete will be the adsorption of the poison. Always
gree. Because of this, if charcoal is taken with them,
keep a large jar of activated charcoal in your kitchen!
or soon afterward, it will tend to adsorb and inacti-
The dose can be repeated every four hours or until
vate the drugs. Therefore, physicians recommend that
charcoal appears in the stool (3, 10, 41, 47, 48, 52,
you only take charcoal two hours before or two hours
Never give charcoal, or anything else, to an uncon-
Physicians primarily use charcoal for eight differ-
scious person to swallow. Contact a physician or am-
1 - To treat poisonous bites from snakes, spiders,
Do not give charcoal before giving an emetic (to
get him to vomit), because the charcoal will neutralize
the emetic. Remember that charcoal will not work in
17 - JAMA,
September 22, 1969.
cases of poisoning by strong acids or alkalies.
18 - Management of Poisoning, Pediatrics for the
Here is a sampling of over 100 substances which
Acetaminophen / Aconitine / Amitriptyline / hydro-
20 - Patient Care,
October 30, 1977, p. 152.
chloride / Amphetamine / Antimony / Antipyrine / Ar-
21 - Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Monthly,
senic / Aspirin / Atropine / Barbital, Barbiturates / Ben-
Gay / Benzodiazepines / Cantharides / Camphor / Chlo-
22 - Journal of the American Geriatrics Society,
rdane / Chloroquine / Chlorpheniramine / Chlorpro-
mazine / Cocaine / Colchicine / Congesprin / Contact /
Dalmane / Darvon / Delphinium / Diazepam / 2-, 4-
Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid / Digitalis (Foxglove) /
25 - Quarterly Journal of Pharmacology,
Dilantin / Diphenylhydantoin / Diphenoxylates /
Doriden / Doxepin / Elaterin / Elavil / Equanil / Er-
gotamine / Ethchlorvynol / Gasoline / Glutethimide /
Golden chain / Hemlock / Hexachlorophene / Imi-
30 - Nature 184,
October 10, 1959.
pramine / Iodine / Ipecac / Isoniazid / Kerosene / Lead
31 - Medical World News,
February 17, 1967.
acetate / Malathion / Mefenamic acid / Meprobamate /
Mercuric chloride / Mercury / Methylene blue / Methyl
salicylate / Miltown / Morphine / Multivitamins and
34 - Annals of Internal Medicine,
minerals / Muscarine / Narcotics / Neguvon / Nicotine
35 - British Medical Journal,
November 25, 1978.
/ Nortriptyline / Nytol / Opium / Oxazepam / Parathion
36 - Medical Tribune,
April 12, 1978.
/ Penicillin / Pentazocine / Pentobarbital / Pesticides /
37 - Surgery, Gynecology, and Obstetrics,
Phenobarbital / Phenolphthalein / Phenol / Phenothi-
azines / Phenylpropanolamine / Placidyl / Potassium
38 - A. Thrash, Home Remedies,
permanganate / Primaquine / Propantheline /
39 - Common Poisons & Injurious Plants,
Propoxyphene / Quinacrine / Quinidine / Quinine /
partment of Public Health, 1967-7004.
Radioactive substances / Salicylamide / Salicylates /
41 - Pediatrics,
secobarbital / Selenium / Serax / Silver / Sinequan /
42 - American Journal of Hospital Pharmacy
Sodium Salicylate / Sominex / Stramonium / Strych-
nine / Sulfonamides / Talwin / Tofranil / Tree tobacco /
Yew / Valium / Veratrine / Some silver and antimony
45 - Clinical Toxicology,
47 - Hospital Formulary,
1 - British Medical Journal,
August 26, 1972.
48 - Martingale Extra Pharmacopeia,
2 - David O. Conney, Activated Charcoal,
3 - Acta Pharmacologica et Toxicologica,
49 - AMA Drug Evaluations,
5th edition, 1983.
50 - Marjorie Baldwin, M.D., Wildwood Sanitarium
4 - Journal of the American Medical Association
51 - Conn’s Current Therapy
1984, pp. 925, 927.
52 - Merck Manual,
53 - American Society of Hospital Pharmacists
7 - Bulletin de la Society de Chime Biologique,
54 - Facts and Comparisons,
8 - Journal of animal Science
, February 1972.
56 - Our Earth, Our Cure,
R. Dextreit, 1974.
10 - Clinical Toxicology,
57 - Effect of Orally Administered Activated Char-
11 - Annals of Emergency Medicine,
coal on Intestinal Gas,
Hall, Thompson & Strother, Loma
12 - AMA Archives of Industrial Health,
58 - Prevention,
59 - Lancet,
September 13, 1980.
13 - Archives of Environmental Health,
60 - American Medical News,
June 22, 1984.
61 - European Journal of Pharmacology,
15 - Comptes rendus Hebdomadaires des Seance
62 - Pediatric Clinics of North America,
de Academie des Sciences,
November 19, 1928.
63 - Hospital Pharmacy News,
16 - Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology,
64 - Journal of Pediatrics,
65 - British Medical Journal,
October 7, 1972.
More than 3,000 people have died since get-
“Hundreds and hundreds of people are living
ting tainted blood from the Red Cross in Canada
back in the 1980s.
“There’s no great outcome here for anybody
The Red Cross in Canada has pleaded guilty
that’s gone through the tainted-blood scandal.”
to distributing contaminated blood supplies
John Plater, Ontario president of the CHS, said:
which infected thousands of Canadians with HIV
“Finally, the Red Cross has accepted responsibility
and hepatitis C.
for their part in the tainted blood tragedy.
The organization may have to pay a small fine
“It’s the least they can do for the sake of victims
(C$5,000, equivalent to U.S.$4,000); but charges
who have waited two decades for someone to be
of criminal negligence could be dropped as part of
Dr. Pierre Duplessis, the secretary general of
The blood scandal is widely regarded as one
of the worst public health disasters in Canadian
“The Canadian Red Cross Society is deeply sorry
for the injury and death . . for the suffering caused
More than 1,000 people became infected with
to families and loved ones of those who were
HIV and as many as 20,000 others contracted
harmed.” In a public apology demanded by survi-
hepatitis C through blood transfusions and blood
vors of the victims and played on videotape in the
products in the 1980s.
Many of the victims were
court, Duplessis said the charity accepted respon-
sibility for “having distributed harmful products for
those that rely on us for their health.”
which strongly criticized the Canadian Red Cross,
In exchange for the guilty plea and public apol-
which had run the country’s blood supply system
ogy, prosecutors dropped criminal charges against
the charity, including criminal negligence.
As a result, the Red Cross was stripped of this
The Canada Red Cross did not start testing do-
role and was replaced by a government agency which
nated blood for HIV until 1985. By that time, it had
is now in charge of blood collection and distribu-
already received word of hundreds of people who
had contracted HIV from tainted blood.
The blood scandal also led to several lawsuits
In 2001, the following official statement was is-
After years of legal wrangling, the charity has
“The Canadian Red Cross Society and a num-
decided to plead guilty to distributing the contami-
ber of other individuals and entities on October 5,
2001, implemented a Plan creating an HIV Fund.
It said it would donate C$1.5 million (equiva-
The HIV Fund is intended to make payments to
lent to U.S.$1.2 million) toward medical research
persons directly infected with HIV-AIDS from blood
or blood products received in Canada, or infected
Federal prosecutor John Ayre said the fine was
indirectly from such persons, and/or the family
adequate, in view of the Red Cross’ status as a hu-
members of persons directly infected.
manitarian organization, noting it no longer engages
“No new lawsuits about tainted blood will be
in blood collection or distribution.
allowed against the Canadian Red Cross Society.
The Canadian Red Cross has already paid vic-
Instead, persons with claims for damages due to
tims $55 million in a separate fund.
HIV-AIDS from tainted blood may apply to the Ref-
Mike McCarthy, spokesman for the Canadian
eree of the HIV Fund.”—From the official HIV Fund
Hemophilia Society (CHS), said: “How can anyone
be satisfied? Thousands of people lost their lives.
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