Repetitive doses of activated charcoal in the treatment of poisoning

Am J Emerg Med. 1987 Jul;5(4):305-11. doi: 10.1016/0735-6757(87)90358-5.


Activated charcoal has found a renewed role in the management of overdosed patients. Routinely administered to reduce the gastrointestinal (GI) absorption of many drugs, growing evidence indicates that repeated doses of charcoal also may enhance drug elimination. Some drugs are excreted into the bile or gastric fluids (phencyclidine, digoxin) and are reabsorbed. Other drugs (theophylline, phenobarbital) can diffuse from the plasma into the lumen of the GI tract. Activated charcoal is administered at regular intervals to sequester these toxins in the GI tract, eventually causing their excretion in feces. This article reviews the evidence for the safety and efficacy of repetitive charcoal therapy. While supportive management remains the mainstay of therapy in poisoned patients, activated charcoal is inexpensive, effective, simple to administer, and may obviate the need for more invasive methods of toxin removal.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Cathartics / administration & dosage
  • Charcoal / administration & dosage*
  • Charcoal / adverse effects
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Poisoning / drug therapy*
  • Rats
  • Time Factors


  • Cathartics
  • Charcoal