Excipient information presented when available (limited, particularly for generics); consult specific product labeling.
Actidose with Sorbitol: 25 g/120 mL (120 mL); 50 g/240 mL (240 mL) [sweet flavor]
Actidose-Aqua: 15 g/72 mL (72 mL); 25 g/120 mL (120 mL); 50 g/240 mL (240 mL) [sweet flavor]
Kerr Insta-Char: 25 g/120 mL (120 mL); 50 g/240 mL (240 mL) [contains fd&c red #40, methylparaben sodium, propylene glycol, propylparaben sodium, sodium benzoate; cherry flavor]
Kerr Insta-Char: 50 g/240 mL (240 mL) [contains propylene glycol]
Kerr Insta-Char in Sorbitol: 25 g/120 mL (120 mL); 50 g/240 mL (240 mL) [contains fd&c red #40, methylparaben sodium, propylene glycol, propylparaben sodium, sodium benzoate; cherry flavor]
Char-Flo with Sorbitol: 25 g (120 mL)
Suspension Reconstituted, Oral:
EZ Char: 25 g (1 ea) [contains bentonite]
Generic: 25 g (28 g)
Mechanism of Action
Adsorbs toxic substances, thus inhibiting GI absorption and preventing or limiting systemic toxicity. Administration of multiple doses of charcoal may interrupt enteroenteric, enterohepatic, and enterogastric circulation of some drugs; may also adsorb any unabsorbed drug which remains in the gastrointestinal tract.
Not absorbed from the GI tract
Feces (as charcoal)
Use: Labeled Indications
Acute poisoning: Suspension: Activated charcoal is a nonabsorbable adsorbent that may be considered in the management of poisonings when GI decontamination of drugs or chemicals is indicated (eg, presentation to a treatment facility within 1 hour of ingestion of substances associated with a high degree of morbidity and/or mortality). Activated charcoal is generally an effective adsorbent of drugs and chemicals with a molecular weight range of 100 to 1,000 daltons. Activated charcoal may occasionally be considered >1 hour postingestion (Chyka 2005), especially when substances with known delayed absorption (eg, sustained-release preparations, salicylates) have been ingested (ACMT 2015; Ghosh 2014; Livshits 2015). Contact a poison control center to determine whether the use of activated charcoal is advised in these patients.
Multidose activated charcoal (MDAC) may be considered to enhance drug elimination if a patient has ingested a life-threatening amount of carbamazepine, dapsone, phenobarbital, quinine, or theophylline (Vale 1999).
Use: Off Label
Intracranial hemorrhage associated with oral non-vitamin K antagonist anticoagulantsyes
Based on the Neurocritical Care Society and the Society of Critical Care Medicine guideline for reversal of antithrombotics in intracranial hemorrhage, activated charcoal is suggested for intubated intracranial hemorrhage patients presenting within 2 hours of ingestion of an oral direct factor Xa inhibitor (eg, apixaban, edoxaban, rivaroxaban) or an oral direct thrombin inhibitor (dabigatran); use is suggested in patients with enteral access and/or alert patients with low aspiration risk. Concomitant agents are also recommended in certain patients (ie, 4-factor prothrombin complex concentrate [PCC] or activated PCC [aPCC] for direct factor Xa inhibitor reversal or idarucizumab for dabigatran reversal).
There are no absolute contraindications listed within the manufacturer’s labeling.
Note: The American Academy of Clinical Toxicology (AACT) and European Association of Poisons Centres and Clinical Toxicologists (EAPCCT) consider the following to be contraindications to the use of charcoal (Chyka 2005; Vale 1999): Presence of intestinal obstruction or GI tract not anatomically intact; patients at risk of GI hemorrhage or perforation; patients with an unprotected airway (eg, CNS depression without intubation); if use would increase the risk and severity of aspiration
Dosage and Administration
Acute poisoning: Oral, NG: Note: Some products may contain sorbitol; coadministration of a cathartic, including sorbitol, is not recommended due to the potential risk of severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. Some clinicians still recommend dosing activated charcoal in a 10:1 (charcoal:poison) ratio for optimal efficacy (Gude 2009); however, the amount of poison ingested is commonly unknown, which makes this approach challenging and often impractical and could result in the administration of an inordinate amount of activated charcoal (Chyka 2005).
Single dose (Chyka 2005): 25 to 100 g
Multidose: Initial dose: 50 to 100 g followed by 25 to 50 g every 4 hours
Intracranial hemorrhage associated with oral non-vitamin K antagonist anticoagulants (off-label use): Oral, enteral: 50 g within 2 hours of ingestion of an oral direct thrombin inhibitor (dabigatran) or an oral direct factor Xa inhibitor (eg, apixaban, edoxaban, or rivaroxaban). Concomitant agents are also recommended in certain patients (ie, 4-factor prothrombin complex concentrate [PCC] or activated PCC [aPCC] for direct factor Xa inhibitor reversal or idarucizumab for dabigatran reversal) (NCS/SCCM [Frontera 2016]).
Refer to adult dosing.
Acute poisoning: Oral, NG:
Single dose: Charcoal in water:
Age-directed dosing: Note: Although dosing by body weight in children (0.5 to 1 g/kg) is recommended by several resources, there are no data or scientific rationale to support this recommendation (Chyka 2005).
Infants <1 year:
Manufacturer's labeling (Actidose-Aqua): 1 g/kg
AACT recommendation (Chyka 2005): 10 to 25 g
Children 1 to 12 years:
Actidose-Aqua: 25 to 50 g
Kerr Insta-Char (Aqueous): Weight ≥16 kg: 1 to 2 g/kg or 15 to 30 g
AACT recommendation (Chyka 2005): 25 to 50 g
Actidose-Aqua: 50 to 100 g
Kerr Insta-Char (Aqueous): Weight ≥ 32 kg: 1 to 2 g/kg or 50 to 100 g
AACT recommendation (Chyka 2005): 25 to 100 g
Single dose: Charcoal with sorbitol; Note: Use of oral charcoal with sorbitol as part of a multiple dose activated charcoal regimen is not recommended (AACT [Vale 1999]); however, a single dose may be used to produce catharsis (AACT 2004):
Infants <1 year: Not recommended
Children 1 to 12 years (Actidose with Sorbitol):
Weight 16 to <32 kg: 25 g
Weight ≥ 32 kg: 25 to 50 g
Actidose with Sorbitol: 50 g
Kerr Insta-Char in Sorbitol: Weight ≥32 kg: 1 to 2 g/kg or 50 to 100 g
Multiple dose: Charcoal in water (doses are repeated until clinical observations of toxicity subside and serum drug concentrations have returned to a subtherapeutic range or until the development of absent bowel sounds or ileus); Note: Reserve for life threatening ingestions of carbamazepine, dapsone, phenobarbital, quinine, or theophylline (AACT 1999).
Manufacturer's labeling (Actidose-Aqua):
Infants <1 year: 1 g/kg every 4 to 6 hours
Children 1 to 12 years: 25 to 50 g every 4 to 6 hours
Adolescents: 50 to 100 g every 4 to 6 hours
Powder: Dilute with at least 8 mL of water per 1 g of charcoal, or mix in a charcoal to water ratio of 1:4 to 1:8; mix vigorously to form a slurry (eg, mix 25 g with sufficient tap water to create a 4-ounce slurry or mix 50 g with sufficient tap water to create an 8-ounce slurry).
Flavored beverages (eg, cola, chocolate milk, concentrated fruit juice) can enhance charcoal's palatability; however, the addition of some flavoring agents (eg, chocolate syrup, milk, ice cream, sherbet, marmalade) are known to reduce the adsorptive capacity and, consequently, the efficacy of activated charcoal. If possible, avoid these adjunctive agents in preference to activated charcoal-water slurries. Nevertheless, these flavoring agents do not completely compromise the effectiveness of activated charcoal and may be necessary in some circumstances to enhance compliance (Cooney 1995; Dagnone 2002). Check for the presence of bowel sounds before administration. IV antiemetics may be required to reduce the risk of vomiting. The activated charcoal container should be agitated thoroughly before administration. The container should be rinsed with a small quantity of water to insure that the patient has received all of the activated charcoal (Krenzelok 1991).
Capsules and tablets should not be used for the treatment of poisoning.
Adsorbs gases from air, store in a closed container.
Leflunomide: Charcoal, Activated may decrease serum concentrations of the active metabolite(s) of Leflunomide. Management: Unless using this combination to intentionally enhance leflunomide elimination, consider an alternative to charcoal when possible. Separating drug administration is not likely to be effective at avoiding this interaction. Consider therapy modification
Teriflunomide: Charcoal, Activated may decrease the serum concentration of Teriflunomide. Management: Unless using this combination to intentionally enhance teriflunomide elimination, consider an alternative to charcoal when possible. Separating drug administration is not likely to be effective at avoiding this interaction. Consider therapy modification
Frequency not defined.
Gastrointestinal: Abdominal distention, appendicitis, constipation, dental discoloration (black; temporary), fecal discoloration (black), intestinal obstruction, mouth discoloration (black; temporary), vomiting
Ophthalmic: Corneal abrasion (with direct contact)
Respiratory: Aspiration, respiratory failure
Concerns related to adverse effects:
- Vomiting: Charcoal may cause vomiting; the risk appears to be greater when charcoal is administered with sorbitol; the influence of the rate and volume of activated charcoal administration, ingested substance(s), and/or comorbid conditions on the risk of vomiting is unknown (Chyka 2005). IV antiemetics may be required to reduce the risk of vomiting or to control vomiting to facilitate administration (AACT 1999).
- Decreased peristalsis: Use with caution in patients with decreased peristalsis.
Concurrent drug therapy issues:
- Ipecac: Ipecac should not be administered routinely in the management of poisoned patients (AACT 2004b). In addition, use may delay the administration of or decrease the effectiveness of activated charcoal.
- Cathartics (eg, sorbitol, mannitol, magnesium sulfate): Coadministration of a cathartic is not recommended; cathartics have not been demonstrated to change patient outcome and have no role in the management of the poisoned patient. Cathartics subject the patient to the risk of developing significant fluid and electrolyte abnormalities (AACT 2004a).
Dosage form specific issues:
- Benzyl alcohol and derivatives: Some dosage forms may contain sodium benzoate/benzoic acid; benzoic acid (benzoate) is a metabolite of benzyl alcohol; large amounts of benzyl alcohol (≥99 mg/kg/day) have been associated with a potentially fatal toxicity (“gasping syndrome”) in neonates; the “gasping syndrome” consists of metabolic acidosis, respiratory distress, gasping respirations, CNS dysfunction (including convulsions, intracranial hemorrhage), hypotension, and cardiovascular collapse (AAP ["Inactive" 1997]; CDC 1982); some data suggests that benzoate displaces bilirubin from protein binding sites (Ahlfors 2001); avoid or use dosage forms containing benzyl alcohol derivative with caution in neonates. See manufacturer’s labeling.
- Capsules: Not recommended for use in the treatment of poisoning.
- Propylene glycol: Some dosage forms may contain propylene glycol; large amounts are potentially toxic and have been associated hyperosmolality, lactic acidosis, seizures and respiratory depression; use caution (AAP ["Inactive" 1997]; Zar 2007).
- Sorbitol: Some products may contain sorbitol; coadministration of a cathartic, including sorbitol, is not recommended. Do not use products containing sorbitol in patients with a genetic intolerance to fructose or in patients who are dehydrated; may cause excessive diarrhea.
- Tablets: Not recommended for use in the treatment of poisoning.
- Appropriate use: Not effective in the treatment of poisonings due to the ingestion of low molecular weight compounds such as cyanide, iron, ethanol, methanol, or lithium. Avoid use in hydrocarbon and caustic ingestions.
- Efficacy: Most effective when administered within 30 to 60 minutes of ingestion. The gritty and unpalatable consistency of activated charcoal can create compliance issues in a noncomatose patient and, therefore, impact efficacy.
- Multidose administration: Based on experimental and clinical studies, multidose activated charcoal (MDAC), in most acute poisonings, has not been shown to reduce morbidity or mortality (Vale 1999). It may be considered if a patient has ingested a life-threatening amount of carbamazepine, dapsone, phenobarbital, phenytoin, quinine, or theophylline, although no controlled studies have demonstrated clinical benefit. MDAC may reduce the half-life and length of hospital stay in patients with severe phenytoin intoxication (Chan 2015).
Activated charcoal is not absorbed systemically following oral administration. Use during pregnancy is not expected to result in significant exposure to the fetus. In general, medications used as antidotes should take into consideration the health and prognosis of the mother; antidotes should be administered to pregnant women if there is a clear indication for use and should not be withheld because of fears of teratogenicity (Bailey 2003).
What is this drug used for?
- It is used to treat some poisonings.
- It is used to ease too much gas in the stomach.
Frequently reported side effects of this drug
- Dark stools
Other side effects of this drug: Talk with your doctor right away if you have any of these signs of:
- A significant reaction like wheezing; chest tightness; fever; itching; bad cough; blue skin color; seizures; or swelling of face, lips, tongue, or throat.
Note: This is not a comprehensive list of all side effects. Talk to your doctor if you have questions.
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