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Charcoal has been used as a folk remedy as far back as recorded history. North American Indians used charcoal for the treatment of gas pains long before our forefathers came to this continent. Homeopathic physicians have used charcoal throughout the world for more than 200 years. Carbo animalis (animal charcoal) and carbo vegetabilis (wood charcoal) have been carried in the homeopathic pharmacopoeia of the United States with the description that these substances have "marked adsorptive power of gases." Charcoal is rated in Category I (safe and effective) status by the FDA for acute toxic poisoning. Allergies to charcoal have not been reported. Charcoal is inexpensive, harmless, and easily used. Charcoal has been an official remedy in the United States for at least 100 years, and was eliminated from the U.S. Pharmacopoeia about 1950, not because it was ineffective, but because of its general disuse in American medicine following the phenomenal growth of the drug industry.

Properties Of Charcoal

Certain electrostatic properties develop in activated charcoal during production, which favor the binding of most poisons. When the gases, resins, proteins, fats, etc., in wood are burned out, the heat generated and the change in chemistry causes the development of a charge on the charcoal granule which attracts most poisonous substances. Nobody has fully understood the mechanism by which charcoal works, from either a physical or chemical standpoint. The capillary attraction is felt to be one mechanism, the electrostatic forces another, and perhaps other forces are also involved. Charred toast and other scorched food in the kitchen are not healthful, however. They are not charcoal. These represent charred protein, fats, carbohydrates, and minerals salts, the very parts burned away in charcoal, leaving only charred cellulose. The skeletal structure remaining in true charcoal is inert, whereas the remaining substances in charred food can react unhealthily with the body, and even act as cancer-producing agents. Activated charcoal is produced from the controlled burning of wood or bone, which is then subjected to the action of an oxidizing gas such as steam or air at elevated temperatures. This process enhances the adsorptive power of charcoal by developing an extensive network of fine pores in the material.

The activation process was not invented until after the turn of the 20th century, but charcoal was already recognized as a useful healing agent even though only regular charcoal was then in use. Following activation of charcoal with pressurized steam or strong acid, the surface area of one cubic centimeter is 1000 square meters! This expanded surface is due to the fact that charcoal particles have thousands of crevices, pits, grooves, and holes which, when opened out, make quite a large surface area. The physical and chemical properties from the original material, and the condition of the carbonization process, determine the properties of charcoal. The temperature of carbonization is about 600 degrees C. A hot blaze is maintained for one hour and then reduced to 100-150 degrees C. by leaning the air which is maintained for from hour to days depending on how wet it is. Distillation then begins and the temperature rises to 600-700 degrees C. Kilns are closed during this process. Tropical forests that have little marketable timber, make good charcoal woods--acacia, pinus, hardwoods, eucalyptus and others. Twenty to 30% of the dry weight of wood will represent the yield of charcoal, and about 50% of the volume of wood.

Moisture content varies from 1-16%, volatile materials from 7-30%. Retorts yield 25-30% more charcoal than kilns. They have slow carbonization at reduced temperatures giving a higher yield. The yield is grater when wood is cut to uniform size and packed tightly in the retort. In making charcoal, oxygen is taken up rapidly the first few hours after carbonization has ceased. Spontaneous combustion is possible at this point. One might wonder if this taking up of oxygen, perhaps the unstable ionized form, is on explanation for the remarkable adsorptive property of charcoal. Debarking trees before igniting makes a cleaner and denser final product of charcoal. Charcoal is readily available through commercial channels, but can also be made at home. Commercial tablets are not as concentrated as charcoal capsules or the charcoal powder, being less effective by about half. Tablets are made from regular charcoal and the pulverized powder is usually activated.

Also, about one-quarter of the tablet is starch material and other substances used to hold the tablets together. Briquettes for grilling food are not safe sources for either external or internal use, as various fillers and chemicals are applied to hold the charcoal together and to insure rapid igniting. Every home should have charcoal on hand as a ready antidote for poisoning, as a cleansing agent, as a deodorizer, and as a treatment of choice in diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, and many intestinal infections. Charcoal is harmless when ingested even in large quantities, or when inhaled in small quantities, and there are no ill effects when it comes in contact with the skin. Because charcoal can pack molecules of ammonia gas into its crevices, it can attract and hold 80 quarts of ammonia gas per one quart of pulverized charcoal! This process, called adsorption, or attaching onto rather than taking into as in absorption. In 1773, Scheele made an experiment with charcoal where a gas was trapped in an inverted tube with charcoal, the lower end of the tube being submerged in a container of mercury. As the charcoal adsorbed the gas, a vacuum appeared in the tube and sucked the mercury into the tube. Pharmacist P.f. Touery, in 1831, making a demonstration of the effectiveness of charcoal before the French academy of Medicine, survived after swallowing 15 grams of strychnine (ten times lethal dose) and an equal amount of charcoal--about three tbs.

Substances Adsorbed By Charcoal

Acetaminophen, Cyanide, Meprobamate, Propantheline,

Acetylcystine, Delphinium, Methylene blue, Propoxyphene,

Aconite, Delphinine, Methyl salicylate, Quinacrine,

Aconitine, 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, Morphine, Quinidine,

Alcohol, Digitalis, Mucomyst ,Quinine,

Amphetamine, Diphenylhydantoin, Muscarin, Radioactive substances,

Antimony, Diphenoxylates, Narcotics, Salicylamide,

Antipyrine, Elaterin, Neguvon, Salicylates,

Arsenic, Ergotamine, Nicotine, Secobarbital,

Aspirin, Ethchlorvynol, Nortriptyline, Selenium,

Atropine, Gasoline, Opium, Silver,

Barbital, Glutethimide, Oxylates, Stramonium,

Barbiturates, Hemlock, Parathion, Strychnine,

Cantharides, Hexachlorophene, Penicillin, Sulfonamides,

Camphor, Imipramine, Phenobarbital, Tin,

Carbon dioxide, Iodine, Phenol, Titanium,

Chlordane, Ipecac, Phenolphthalein, Veratrine,

Chloroquine, Isoniazid, Phenylpropanolamine,

Chlorpheniramine, Kerosene, Phosphorus,

Chlorpromazine,Lead acetate, Potassium cyanide,

Cocaine, Malathion, Potassium permanganate

Colchicine, Mefenamic acid, Primaquine.


Charcoal can be purchased as a powder, charcoal suspension in water, charcoal paste, tablets and capsules. The activated capsules are roughly twice as potent as the tablets. Drugstores or health food stores often carry charcoal. The oral dosage is one tablespoon of powder stirred into a small amount of water. Four capsules of activated charcoal represent about one tablespoonful, or eight tablets of regular charcoal. Finely powdered charcoal can get to the surface of toxins better than coarsely powdered charcoal, and therefore should be used for best results. Food interferes with its best action. The dosage should be taken other than at mealtimes, as food tends to interfere with the adsorptive quality of charcoal. It has been found that there is approximately a 50% reduction in effectiveness when the stomach is filled. After heavy fat ingestion, bile reduces the adsorptive capabilities of charcoal by 30%, and duodenal juice causes a very minor reduction in effectiveness. When a poison is ingested while food is still in the stomach, to be on the safe side, it is recommended that charcoal be taken at approximately eight to ten times the estimated weight of the poison. If charcoal is to be taken throughout the day, the best schedule is upon arising, midway between lunch and supper, and at bedtime.

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