Position paper: Single-dose activated charcoal

Clin Toxicol (Phila). 2005;43(2):61-87. doi: 10.1081/clt-200051867.


Single-dose activated charcoal therapy involves the oral administration or instillation by nasogastric tube of an aqueous preparation of activated charcoal after the ingestion of a poison. Volunteer studies demonstrate that the effectiveness of activated charcoal decreases with time. Data using at least 50 g of activated charcoal, showed a mean reduction in absorption of 47.3%, 40.07%, 16.5% and 21.13%, when activated charcoal was administered at 30 minutes, 60 minutes, 120 minutes and 180 minutes, respectively, after dosing. There are no satisfactorily designed clinical studies assessing benefit from single-dose activated charcoal to guide the use of this therapy. Single-dose activated charcoal should not be administered routinely in the management of poisoned patients. Based on volunteer studies, the administration of activated charcoal may be considered if a patient has ingested a potentially toxic amount of a poison (which is known to be adsorbed to charcoal) up to one hour previously. Although volunteer studies demonstrate that the reduction of drug absorption decreases to values of questionable clinical importance when charcoal is administered at times greater than one hour, the potential for benefit after one hour cannot be excluded. There is no evidence that the administration of activated charcoal improves clinical outcome. Unless a patient has an intact or protected airway, the administration of charcoal is contraindicated. A review of the literature since the preparation of the 1997 Single-dose Activated Charcoal Position Statement revealed no new evidence that would require a revision of the conclusions of the Statement.

Publication types

  • Guideline
  • Practice Guideline
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adsorption
  • Animals
  • Antidotes / administration & dosage
  • Antidotes / therapeutic use*
  • Charcoal / administration & dosage
  • Charcoal / therapeutic use*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Contraindications
  • Humans
  • Poisoning / drug therapy*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Time Factors


  • Antidotes
  • Charcoal