The pharmaceutical importance of charcoal is found in its exceptional powers of absorption, activated charcoal is as a highly effective natural adsorbent of gases and toxins in the medicinal treatment of indigestion, wind and heartburn. Activated carbon is a term that can be applied to any form of charcoal that possesses adsorptive power.
The medicinal use of charcoal is recorded as early as 1550 BC by the ancient Egyptians, though it was only in the latter part of the 18th century that its adsorbent powers were scientifically studied and it became possible to prepare it in a pure state, primarily as an antidote to poisoning. However it has many uses beyond the medicinal, it is found in the purification system of our drinking water, in air conditioning systems to remove odours and in linings for gas masks.
Charcoal or carbon as it is often called is one of the most abundant elements on earth. The most common forms of carbon are coal, coconut shell, wood, peat and lignite. The charcoal we use in our test vials is made from coconut shells. No trees are damaged in the process, and the husks are not a food-source.
The charcoal undergoes a process called “activation”. This is achieved by firstly burning the shells in the absence of air and then placing the carbonized shells in a kiln full of steam at a temperature above 800 C for between 12-24 hours. The steam opens up the pores of the charcoal and thereby enlarges them. It is this process of “activation” that creates an enormous internal surface area (over 1000 sq meters per gram of charcoal!) which makes the charcoal such an effective adsorbent. ‘Activisation’ enlarges the pores of the charcoal so much that a teaspoonful has a surface area about the size of a football pitch!