In part 2 of our series on activated charcoal, we examined how charcoal can be used to effectively treat insect stings. Now let’s turn our attention to venomous creatures of a different kind.
Poisonous Spider Bites
Spider bites can cause a wide assortment of symptoms including excruciating pain, swelling, and tissue necrosis (death). People can also die from certain venomous arachnid (spider) bites. But did you know that activated charcoal has proven to be an extremely effective treatment for spider bites? And yes, this includes the infamous Brown Recluse.
Within 24 hours of a Brown Recluse bite, a purplish red hue appears around the bite. This discoloration is accompanied by significant tissue death. The spider’s venom can develop an ulceration that travels further inward to the bone. This painful, dangerous condition can persist for weeks, or even months.
When administered as a poultice to the bite area, activated charcoal is an extremely effective remedy in adsorbing the toxins and treating the symptoms. To drastically alleviate the person’s pain, prevent infection, and mitigate scarring, apply the charcoal as quickly as possible. This remedy is also effective for treating Black Widow bites. (See part 2 of our series on activated charcoal for more information on how to make and apply a charcoal poultice.)
The World Health Organization conservatively estimates that each year, tens of thousands of people around the world die from snakebites. Scientific experiments conducted over several years demonstrate the effectiveness of activated charcoal as an antidote for snakebites. In one experiment, 100 times the lethal dose of cobra venom was mixed with activated charcoal and injected into laboratory animals. Amazingly, the charcoal prevented the development of symptoms.1
In the scenario where someone is bitten by a poisonous snake and there isn’t enough time to get to a hospital, activated charcoal may help save his/her life. A charcoal poultice, in combination with ingesting activated charcoal, is the best remedy for snakebites when medical help is too far away. In remote areas where antivenin is absent or no antivenin exists for a particular kind of snakebite, doctors who used charcoal discovered it is an excellent treatment.
To administer, immediately apply a very large activated charcoal poultice. It should cover the entire extremity of the bite area, centering over the bite, using large amounts of powdered charcoal wet with water. Be sure to replace the charcoal poultice with a new application approximately every 10 to 15 minutes.
Snakebites result in swelling within 10 minutes, which could slow the binding of the venom to the charcoal. Time is of the essence in order to maximize the effectiveness of the charcoal treatment, so it should be administered right away.
If the poultice alone reins in the pain and swelling, then continue with this treatment. However, if the pain and swelling increases, add ice packs to the injured area. Coupled with this treatment, give the snakebite victim large quantities of activated charcoal to take orally. Numerous poisons can enter the gastrointestinal tract, so it is important for the adsorption process to be working internally and externally. If possible, it is a good idea to apply a fresh poultice every ten to fifteen minutes, especially in the hours just after the bite occurred. To ensure all the venom has cleared the system, follow-up this treatment with a visit to a hospital.
Now that you know all this about activated charcoal, it’s a good idea to keep a supply of it handy at all times. If you’re planning a trip to destinations where venomous snakes are present, pack some activated charcoal. For first aid, carry some in your backpack, knapsack, or pockets when out and about. This will allow for prompt administration of the charcoal to any venomous bite. And remember to take at least ten charcoal pills by mouth immediately.
Note: Although many bites and stings can be treated at home with charcoal, it is always wise to follow up a serious bite with a prompt trip to the hospital.
Want to learn more? You can read about activated charcoal and poisoning here.
1. Dinsley, John. CharcoalRemedies.com: The Complete Handbook of Medicinal Charcoal and Its Applications. Southside Boularderie, N.S.: Gatekeeper Books, 2005.