First Aid Uses for Charcoal
Charcoal is simply wood turned to coal. Its a form of carbon produced by partially burning wood or other organic matter by a method in which most oxygen has been excluded. All the studies I’ve found indicate that charcoal is harmless when it is ingested, inhaled, or when it comes in contact with the skin. Yet it is a powerful antidote to ingested and contact poisons, and it is a cleansing agent for infections and various metabolic disturbances.
I consider charcoal a miracle substance, whether used in the field or in the home. Charcoals use dates back at least to the time of Hippocrates (460-370 BC). The only negative thing that I’ve ever found about charcoal is if, when you are stoking the wood stove, you get it all over the floor. The woman of the house will not be pleased, and this is not good.
Charcoal is “absorptive” in its action, meaning it collects on and adheres tightly to a surface. Think of it as a magnet. This is not the same thing as absorption,” which means taking in and incorporating, assimilating, like a sponge. Being absorptive, charcoal binds itself to other substances and in effect blocks their having any effect in their environment. Just how this is accomplished, no one knows. Charcoal is without a rival as an agent for cleansing and assisting the healing of the body. Because of its physical make-up, the total surface area of all the particles in a small piece of charcoal 2/5 of an inch square is approximately equal to a field more than 33 yards square. That’s one impressive magnet! The uses of charcoal are almost as universal as water. Like water it can be used freely as a healing agent.
Charcoal has a strong affinity for adsorbing impure and toxic gasses. It is a common element in all kinds of air filters, even NBC suits! It also adsorbs many poisonous chemicals, drugs and toxins, including opium, cocaine, morphine, nicotine, salicylates, strychnine, kerosene, barbituates and antidepressant pills. However, it is of little or no value in lye and caustic alkalais, alcohol, mineral acids, and iron. Also, it is important to know that charcoal is of no value in treating cyanide as the cyanide actually interferes with the normal adsorptive properties of charcoal. Poisons are of great concern to us in the wilderness. If you are in a survival situation and you have the misfortune of ingesting a poisonous plant or eating fish or meat that is generating serious food poisoning toxins, charcoal can save your life. I would like to give the following examples of remarkable scientific tests that have been done that show the effectiveness of charcoal against poison.
In 1813, the French chemist Bertrand survived with no ill effects after deliberately drinking five grams of arsenic trioxide mixed with charcoal. An equally dramatic demonstration occurred in 1831 in front of the French Academy of Medicine, where the French pharmacist RE Touery survived after swallowing 15 grams of strychnine (10 times the lethal dose), and an equal amount of charcoal.
One can buy charcoal powder, tablets, and capsules. The activated capsules or powder are about twice as potent as the tablets. The tablets are marketed mainly for indigestion or excessive stomach gas, and contain other ingredients besides charcoal. Drug stores or health food stores usually carry charcoal in several forms. If you were using a dosage of one tablespoon of activated charcoal powder stirred into a glass of water, it would require four capsules of activated charcoal, or eight regular tablets to do the same job. Charcoal can be easily made at home and put into empty gelatin capsules if you like. I do this for convenience sake and it works out well.
Maximum Rate Of Adsorption –
Charcoal reaches its maximal rate of adsorption extremely fast, within one minute. Thus, in combating poisons, both the dosage and the speed with which the charcoal is administered will to a certain degree determine how successful it is. Also, as mentioned above, the form of the charcoal also makes a difference. I don’t know if my friend knew the reasons why taking a slurry of finely ground charcoal in water as well as the chunks was good, but it makes sense that finely powdered charcoal particles can get to more of the surfaces of the toxins faster.
When poison has been ingested on an empty stomach, the whole gastrointestinal (GI) system itself reacts and tries to neutralize and/or inhibit the absorption of the poison. If you take charcoal, this natural inhibiting response causes some interference with the effective adsorbing action of the charcoal. It is estimated that 10 grams (about one tablespoon) of charcoal can only adsorb about three to seven grams of materials, making it necessary to give at least twice the amount of charcoal as the suspected weight of the poison taken. There has been some discussion as to whether food, etc., found in the GI tract would also inhibit the adsorptive action by the charcoal of drugs or poisons. And that is the case: there is approximately a 50 percent reduction in effectiveness of adsorption with charcoal due to stomach contents and a 30 percent reduction due to bile. Therefore, when a poison has been ingested with food, to be on the safe side, use approximately eight to 10 times the estimated weight of the poison as the dosage of charcoal.
Finally, research has also shown that when charcoal goes to work on toxic materials in the GI tract, it forms a stable complex that does not dissociate and re-release the toxins further down the GI tract. That means that once charcoal has gotten hold of the toxins, it will carry them completely through and out of your system. So as a rule of thumb, if you haven’t eaten, take twice as much charcoal as what the weight was of the ingested poison. If you have eaten, knock down eight to 10 times as much charcoal as the poison ingested. I would consider this a minimum, and remember that the charcoal can’t hurt you.
Ideally both vomiting and inactivation of the poison should be combined in the early treatment of acute poisoning. Using either Syrup of Ipecac or apomorphine will bring up only about 30 percent of the poison in the stomach, meaning that they are inefficient in preventing poisoning by inducing vomiting, as 70 percent of the poison is still in the stomach. The charcoal will be the savior here; vomiting isn’t enough. Remember that the charcoal forms a stable complex with the poison. It will hold the poison safely until it is passed out through your bowels.
One caution here is that charcoal adsorption will be hindered by digestive enzymes, amino acids, and other nutrients from the gut. It will also adsorb any medication you have taken within the past two hours. And, if you take enough of it, you will become constipated. So hold off eating the charcoal until you really need it, as in a case of serious indigestion or acute poisoning. Then take it immediately! If you go to the drug store to get charcoal it will be in the form called activated charcoal. Activated charcoal is simply charcoal produced from the controlled burning of wood or bone, that is then subjected to the action of an oxidizing gas such as steam or air. This is done at elevated temperatures, enhancing the adsorptive power of charcoal by developing an extensive internal network of fine pores in the material. All impurities are removed by these processes so that it is pure vegetable matter.
Making Your Own – The ultimate in making your own charcoal begins with a wood fire out of doors. This is extremely good news for you and me. We can manufacture high grade charcoal from our campfire! Whether at home or in the field it’s very easy to do and it’s free. The finest charcoal is made out of boxwood, coconut shells, willow, pine, or other soft woods. Build a fire and let it bum down to a good bed of coals and add more wood. Next cover the fire with a sheet of tin or steel and cover that with soil to exclude the oxygen. The wood will char but not bum. In the field, you take pieces of unburned but charred wood (charcoal) from your cold campfire and pulverize them into a powder. At this point you are set to go. If you wish to make large amounts in the field, dig a pit and repeat the above process without the metal cover. You probably won’t have a metal cover in a survival situation, but the pit can be covered with green logs which will help keep out the air.
The more finely you grind the charcoal, the more effective it will be.
the field, a makeshift bowl can be used to turn the charcoal into powder for greater effectiveness.
Gelatin capsules (gelcaps) can be used to put up both store bought activated charcoal or homemade charcoal for future use at home or in the field.
From earliest times, people have used closed fire pits like this to cook (bake) their food in the field. If you are cooking a large meal and don’t have the time to attend to it, this is a fine way to go. There is more to the cooking method but all the basics are here. No matter which method you choose, your final product will be an ultra-fine grade of charcoal. All you have to do is pulverize it and save it. If it is stored in a water-proof, air-tight container, it will last forever.
Other Applications – You already know how to make charcoal and how to neutralize ingested poisons, so let’s take a look at some other applications that work extremely well. Should you develop diarrhea in the field, you must do something about it right away. Diarrhea can be life-threatening because it can easily lead to dehydration. And we all know that dehydration is a
Charcoal is the remedy of choice and I’ve never found anything that acted quicker. If you are using one of the military canteens that comes with a cup, fill it up halfway with charcoal and then add water until its full. Mix thoroughly and then drink. Do it again. If within four hours the condition still exists, repeat the dosage, you will get the situation under control in a very rapid time frame.
How about as an antidote for insect bites and stings? When used as a poultice, it is excellent. It will check both swelling and pain. It is effective against fire ant bites, mosquito bites, chigger bites, and poison ivy, just to name a few. A sting from a yellow jacket can be very painful and the swelling is not good, either. It’s been shown that within five minutes of applying a charcoal poultice, the pain is gone and the swelling reduced.
Another concern is snakebite. I have no personal experience with snakebites but physicians who have used charcoal find it a good treatment. A poultice made of large quantities of powdered charcoal wet with water is immediately applied to as big an area surrounding the bite as possible. Replace the poultice every 10 to 15 minutes.
The sooner the charcoal is applied, the more effective the treatment will be, as swelling in a snake bite begins within 10 minutes. It is recommended that charcoal be carried with you when you are walking in a snake infested area, so that the charcoal can be applied to any venomous bite immediately. As long as the pain and swelling are being controlled by the poultice we can continue with this treatment alone. If pain and swelling should continue to progress, add ice packs (if available) to the extremity. Holding the bitten area in a cold stream will work in a pinch. Large quantities of charcoal should be taken periodically by mouth as well, as many snake poisons can be secreted into the GI tract.
Making a charcoal poultice:
Mix clean water with charcoal powder to a paste-like consistency.
Take a sterile bandage from your medical kit, a paper towel, or even a bandana and apply the paste to it.
Fold the improvised bandage over the paste to contain it.
Apply to the affected area and secure with tape or anything available.
The treatment of choice for the brown recluse spider is charcoal. There is no other recognized treatment except wide surgical excision. There is no known antidote. This spider produces a bite that gives little or no pain at first. In 24 hours a purplish red zone develops around the bite and extreme tissue death occurs. It may produce a very deep and angry ulceration extending down to the bone, which lasts for weeks or months. Brown recluse spider bites have been successfully treated with charcoal which produced no ulceration’s and only the faintest purple discoloration after one week. Of course, the sooner the treatment is begun, the better.
In general there are two ways to make a charcoal poultice. One way (Poultice # 1) is to mix the charcoal with clean water and make a paste. Next take a piece of cotton cloth or paper towel and fold it in two for strength, add the paste, and apply the paste covered cloth/towel directly onto the area to be treated. The paste side will be down, against the skin. The whole thing should be held in place with an improvised bandage or a bandage wrap from your medical kit. Another way (Poultice # 2) is to take your cloth or paper towel and fold it in two, apply the paste on 1/2 of it and then fold it again to form a sandwich. Next moisten the cloth with water and apply to the target area. Here the cloth is against the skin, not the paste. Again hold it on with a bandage of some sort.
To make these poultices even more effective add a piece of plastic on top of the cloth before bandaging. It can be as simple as a piece of bread wrapper. A plastic wrap will help hold in heat which, combined with the moisture, will increase the poultice’s effectiveness. Poultice # 1 will act more quickly than the second poultice. When using the first poultice where the charcoal is in direct contact with the skin, and there is an open wound, tattooing is possible. This means a permanent black mark under the skin. Personally speaking, if I get bit by a poisonous snake I couldn’t care less about two tiny permanent black marks on my leg or any where else. I’d use the fastest acting poultice I could. But if it is not a critical emergency, the second poultice will give you a steady but slower rate of action, and you won’t need to replace the old poultice for a new one as frequently. I would advise everyone to make up some powdered charcoal or buy it at the drug store, put it in a container like a ziplock bag and make it part of your survival kit.
There are many more uses of this wonderful substance, from treating infections to brushing your teeth to aiding in the treatment of some cancers. Bottom line is simple: charcoal works, so why would you not use it? If you feel that you have been poisoned, Eat The Ole’Campfire! (Not when it’s hot, of course.). It could save your life.