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Activated charcoal and regular charcoal are almost identical – the only difference is that activated charcoal has been created solely for medicinal use. To create activated charcoal, regular charcoal is heated with a gas that causes the charcoal to expand, creating a porous surface that traps toxins.
Activated charcoal works because it chemically binds other substances to its surface and can absorb thousands of times its own weight. It also has an incredibly large surface area due to all of its pores – one cubic inch of charcoal has the surface area equivalent to a 150,000 square-foot field. This is why just a bit of charcoal can absorb so many toxins, atoms, and ions.