Two kinds of charcoal are used in Pharmacy and Therapeutics. Ist. Animal Charcoal, or Bone Black. This is prepared by bringing to a red heat, out of contact with the air, the bones of oxen and sheep; and reducing them to powder, which is purified by washings with hydrochloric acid. This powder is rather dense, very fine, and deep bluish-black. 2d. Wood Charcoal. This is prepared from a large variety of ordinary woods, that from aspen-poplar being one of the best; and charcoal from corks being one of the most suitable for medical purposes.
Properties and Uses: Animal charcoal is chiefly used to remove odors and colors in various pharmaceutical operations. It is employed in deodorizing common whisky by retaining its fusel oil; but vegetable preparations (especially astringents) decolorized by it, lose a considerable portion of their active powers.
Wood charcoal is a great absorber of gases. Different gases are affected by it in different proportions, about as follows: A given quantity of fresh charcoal will absorb, of hydrogen, 17 times its own bulk; of carburetted hydrogen, 50 times; of oxygen, 90 times; of nitrogen, 70 times; of carbonic acid gas, 350 times; of sulphuretted hydrogen, 530 times; of ammonia, 590 times. It also favors various chemical affinities, curiously noted in this; that charcoal saturated with ammonia will take up more carbonic acid than if no ammonia were present–thereby forming a bicarbonate. Charcoal slowly absorbs carbonic acid from the air, and thus in a few weeks will be unable to absorb further; but its original properties can be restored by bringing it to a dull-red heat in an iron retort–thereby driving off the gases it had absorbed.
This charcoal is used internally to relieve flatus in the stomach and bowels, following indigestion. It does not strengthen the digestive apparatus, but merely affords ease from present mechanical distention. For this purpose, from five to ten grains may be given an hour or more after a meal. It does not interfere with the action of suitable tonics; but partially weakens the power of the gastric juice, if given before the digestive process is completed. In bilious diarrhea with frothy stools; in all cases of foetid stools; and in acrid discharges which create tormina, it is also of service. Among cases of the last kind may be named the accumulation of flatus in the last stages of peritoneal inflammation, when the distention of the bowel by gases will cause that "angulation" which prevents stools and causes much suffering. In such cases, from three to five grains may be repeated every two hours; and a subsidence of the tympanitis, and spontaneous movement of the bowels, be obtained.
Charcoal is an antiseptic, whether used internally or externally. For this purpose, it is given in semi-gangrenous conditions of the stomach, and applied to phagedrenic and gangrenous ulcers. It arrests the process of decomposition; but does not aid in preserving the deeper tissues, nor in building up a line of demarkation, nor in securing a granulating surface. On these accounts, it is altogether inferior to capsicum, myrrh, bayberry etc. It is generally applied to foul ulcers in a poultice of one ounce of flaxseed meal, and two ounces of bread crumb.
A useful preparation in acute diarrhea is, two grains each of bicarbonate of soda, rhubarb, and charcoal from corks, given in mucilage once in two to four hours. Moist charcoal is not nearly so efficient as the article given dry; on which account the best mode of exhibition is in gelatine capsules.
The Physiomedical Dispensatory, 1869, was written by William Cook, M.D.
It was scanned by Paul Bergner at http://medherb.com