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Ill Advised Antidotes

What is an antidote?  The term antidote literally means “given against”, and is a substance, typically a medicine, given to counteract a particular poison.  Hundreds of years ago, potions and concoctions were created to treat poisons and stings, some with success. However, many were not helpful and some actually did harm.  Currently there are many antidotes available to treat the poisoned patient in a health care setting.  At the poison center we hear about various home remedies used to treat poisonings, most of which are outdated “old wives tales” and are NOT recommended.

Emetics:Emetics is a scientific term for a substance that induces vomiting (makes you throw up).  Poison centers used to recommend syrup of ipecac to induce vomiting for many poisonings, but the American Association of Poison Control Centers, along with the American Academy of Pediatrics had made a decision years ago to stop this practice.  As a result, syrup of ipecac is not recommended. It is no longer manufactured and cannot be easily found. 

An internet search can lead to many other methods to induce vomiting which include drinking salt water, ingesting raw egg whites, drinking a mixture of mustard and water, or gagging yourself usually with a finger to the back of the throat to stimulate the gag reflex. None of these are recommended and some can be very dangerous!

What does the Missouri Poison Center recommend? 

Do not attempt to induce vomiting.  Call the poison center right away after a poison has been ingested. Specially trained pharmacists and nurses are available 24-7 to answer your call and give the correct first aid.  Using these various methods are not effective at emptying the stomach of the poison and have potential risks. For example, salt water can raise the blood sodium to dangerously high levels and can even lead to death. Gagging yourself can cause a scratch or damage to the back of the throat, and ingesting raw egg whites can cause food poisoning.

Activated Charcoal:Activated charcoal has been used in emergency rooms for poisonings for years to absorb (or bind) drugs in the stomach which keeps some of the drug from getting into the body. Activated charcoal is not the same as charcoal briquettes. It is sometimes recommended as “trendy” treatment by various online health blogs. Tablets can be purchased at drugstores to be used for food poisoning, accidental or intentional overdoses, and other general body detoxification treatment.

What does the Missouri Poison Center recommend? 

We do not support home use of charcoal. Over the counter products are not monitored or regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and there are no clinical studies that show any benefit of using charcoal in the home setting.  Charcoal can bind to prescribed medications and vitamins which prevents their absorption which makes them less effective. If the person ingesting the charcoal becomes nauseated and is drowsy, they are at serious risk for vomiting in their sleep and possibly breathing the  charcoal into their lungs.

Check out more details about activated charcoal here: Charcoal

Neutralizing:When someone swallows a chemical, or gets it on the skin or in the eyes, there are natural reactions to want to “neutralize” the chemical.  Mixing chemicals together can result in a heat being produced which can produce burns of the mouth, skin, eyes, or whatever part of the body exposed to the chemical.

What does the Missouri Poison Center recommend? 

Do not attempt to neutralize a chemical.  Instead immediately start to flush the exposed area with large of amounts of lukewarm water.  After the flushing has started, call the Missouri Poison Center right away for further recommendations.

Beating a Drug Test:Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is a popular remedy cited on the internet as being effective for general cleansing and detoxification of the body, skin, and hair.  Online it is often inappropriately recommended for individuals wanting to beat a urine drug test. Relatively large amounts, 3-5 tablespoons of baking soda dissolved in water is swallowed, then followed by drinking a gallon of water a few hours before the test in order to avoid detection.  When baking soda comes into contact with stomach juices (hydrochloric acid), there is a reaction that releases carbon dioxide gas. The generation of the carbon dioxide gas causes stomach distention. The excess water intake then further distends the stomach which can result in severe abdominal pain and vomiting, and can lead to rupture of the stomach. 

What does the Missouri Poison Center recommend? 

Failing a drug screen is a better option than causing internal damage.  Do not attempt to use baking soda to pass a drug test.  Some individuals will use baking soda to soothe an upset stomach. The poison center strongly advises only using baking soda as directed on the packaging, do no use excessive amounts for any reason.

Essential Oils:Essential oils are being used in the same way as medications, they are applied to the skin, inhaled into the lungs and sometimes taken by mouth.  They are touted to treat a variety of conditions such as athlete’s foot, colds and flu, nausea and sinus infections, just to name a few. Although they are used like medications, they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. As a result, you cannot be sure of the concentration of the ingredients, if the label is accurate, or if there are any contaminants in the oil.  Some essential oils irritate the skin, and some may make the skin more sensitive to the sun causing an unexpected sunburn. Prolonged use of any one essential oil may increase the risk for unwanted side effects.

What does the Missouri Poison Center recommend? 

Using essential oils in your home is not usually an issue, but using them in a way that exposes the body to the oil can result in undesirable side effects.  Never substitute medical care by using essential oils to treat conditions. Call the poison center with any questions or concerns about proper essential oil use.

Check out more details about essential oils here: Essential Oils Natural Not Always Equal Safe/

If you have any questions about so-called antidotes, call the Missouri Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222.  The poison center is open all day, every day for poisoning emergencies and questions.
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