The new black magic: activated charcoal and new therapeutic uses

J Emerg Med. 1987;5(1):9-18. doi: 10.1016/0736-4679(87)90004-7.


Activated charcoal has been used for centuries as antidotal therapy for poisonings. New variations of charcoal therapy have developed over the last two decades. These modifications include multiple-dose activated charcoal (MDAC) therapy, charcoal hemoperfusion, and a new "superactive" charcoal (SAC). Recent literature suggests using initial charcoal therapy instead of ipecac as a first-line antidotal agent for many acute poisonings. The palatability of charcoal slurries has been enhanced by the addition of carboxymethylcellulose, sucrose, saccharin, chocolate syrup, or sorbitol. The new SAC has shown to adsorb 1.7 to 4 times the amount of substance tested compared with other activated charcoal preparations. Multiple-dose activated charcoal therapy has been shown effective in treating phenobarbital, digoxin, digitoxin, theophylline, and dapsone intoxications, among others. The problems associated with charcoal hemoperfusion therapy have been partially alleviated, and it is now alternative therapy for the seriously intoxicated patient.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Charcoal / administration & dosage
  • Charcoal / adverse effects
  • Charcoal / therapeutic use*
  • Hemoperfusion
  • Humans
  • Poisoning / therapy*


  • Charcoal