Activated coal or charcoal is primarily a type of carbon, which is processed in such a way that it is extremely porous. It is akin to a soft, dark powder. This also leads it to have a large surface area, provided for chemical reactions or absorptions. It is normally derived from charcoal and has been touted to have considerable health benefits, like treating poisonings for bowel preparations, and so on. However, there are side effects which cannot be sidelined. Before we get on to that, here is a little more explanation about activated charcoal.
What is Activated Charcoal?
Activated charcoal is made from source materials which are carbonaceous, like coal, wood, and nutshells. There are two processes through which it is produced.
In physical reactivation, the first method is carbonization. Material having carbon content are pyrolyzed, that is, chemically decomposed in temperatures ranging from 600 to 900ºC. All this is done in inert atmosphere, in the existence of gases, like argon or nitrogen. Another process through which activated charcoal is produced under this category is oxidization. Carbonized or raw material in this process is treated with or exposed to carbon dioxide, oxygen, or steam in the range of 600º - 1200ºC.
Here, the raw material is infused with chemicals- it could be an acid, salt, or strong base. After that, it is carbonized at low temperature, 450º - 900ºC. It is supposed that the process of chemical activation goes parallel to carbonization.
Now, let's take a look at its side effects.
Side Effects of Activated Charcoal
When sorbitol is combined with activated charcoal, side effects related to metabolism are experienced by an individual. Dehydration, shock, electrolyte abnormalities, hypernatremia, and hypermagnesemia are the effects of activated carbon or charcoal.
Exacerbation or increase in symptoms of variegate porphyria is a result of a wrong dose or over dose of activated charcoal. This condition culminates into increased skin lesions, plasma, and urine porphyrins.
Just as activated charcoal is used the most for gastrointestinal purpose, it is also believed to have maximum side effects for the same system of our body. So, starting from frequent side effects like vomiting and nausea, an overdose could result in bowel obstruction and perforation of gastrointestinal tract. Other side effects include ileus, chalk like taste on the tongue, which is unpalatable, abscess formation, black colored stools, etc.
Wrong administration of activated charcoal straight into the lungs of an adult is known to cause adult respiratory distress syndrome. In addition to this, empyema, which refers to collection of pus within the cavity between the lungs and membrane around it and bronchiolitis obliterans (blocking or plugging of airways with granulation tissue) can be experienced as a side effect of activated charcoal.
In the case where activated charcoal comes in contact with eyes, it can result in corneal abrasions.
Other Side Effects
The ones mentioned above were specific and categorized side effects. Apart from these, there are a few more side effects, some of which are pretty common and minor. They also subside in a specific time period. So, such effects of this drug are allergic reactions, like difficulty in breathing, skin rash, swelling of mouth, lips, face, or tongue, and tightness in the chest. These effects are mainly experienced when the charcoal is combined with sorbitol. Constipation and diarrhea are amongst other after effects of activated charcoal. If any of these symptoms are severe, one should immediately consult a doctor.
Activated charcoal needs to be prescribed and administered very carefully for avoiding the occurrence of the aforementioned symptoms. Finally, as the saying goes, there are two sides of the coin, each thing has a flip side. We have to decide what is best for us.