Why Is Mixing Activated Charcoal With Meds Bad?

If you haven't heard, activated charcoal is the latest craze to sweep the nation. OK, maybe not sweep, but the ingredient is popping up everywhere, from ice cream and pressed juice to face masks and toothpaste. Celebrities like Shailene Woodley and Gwyneth Paltrow have endorsed activated charcoal, which has been used in Ancient Egypt and Chinese medicine for millennia. But while the appropriated ingredient has healing properties, activated charcoal is not entirely safe. One issue concerns its interaction with prescription drugs. So why is activated charcoal bad for people taking medications? Turns out, it may cause drugs to become ineffective.

While its a favorite among wellness enthusiasts, activated charcoal has traditionally been used to treat drug overdose or poisoning, according to WebMD. That's because the adsorbent substance, also known as activated carbon, can bind to toxins and allow them to be flushed out of — instead of absorbed by — the body along with the charcoal itself. One study, published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, even found that activated charcoal can cut drug absorption by more than half in an acetaminophen overdose.

But, as Eater pointed out, activated charcoal is not so great at differentiating between bad molecules and good nutrients. That means calcium and potassium could be soaked up alongside those toxins.

Specifically, Patricia Raymond, M.D., a gastroenterologist from Virginia Beach, told Women's Health,

Activated charcoal is given to people who take too much medication because charcoal is so absorbent and can counteract an overdose. But if you’re drinking it and you also are on any meds, even birth control pills, the charcoal is likely to absorb the drugs. So you risk having them become ineffective.

According to Eater, Raymond's warning applies to more than 200 medications. Some of those drugs include birth control, asthma treatments like albuterol, and over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen. Since the interaction between activated charcoal and prescription drugs can be dangerous, cautions people to wait to take their dose of activated charcoal at least two hours before or one hour after ingesting other medicines.

There is little research to support or disprove activated charcoal's wellness and healing benefits. But there is enough scientific evidence to suggest that the substance would have adverse effects for people taking medications. If you're still interesting in eating or drinking activated charcoal, remember to wait a while in between medication doses. Your health is not worth the trend.