TORONTO -- A darkness is seeping into the food and lifestyles worlds these days, affecting everything from ice cream to bottled drinks and face masks.

Activated charcoal, a black detoxifying substance traditionally used medicinally to help treat a drug overdose or poisoning, is now being put into a multitude of consumer products that are creating a sensation on social media with their shocking colour.

Toronto ice cream shop iHalo Krunch is making headlines -- and many Instagram posts -- with its black, activated charcoal-infused coconut flavour that also comes in a black waffle cone.

"People love it, they love the colour," says Charlene D'Aoust, owner at iHalo Krunch.

"We put just enough that it actually adds the colour to the cone without having to add food colouring but that it's still safe to consume."

Calgary-based Well Juicery has also jumped on the trend with its recently launched cold-pressed lemonade line that includes an activated-charcoal beverage.

"It's actually our No. 1 seller right now," says company co-founder Zack Lister.

"I couldn't even believe when I looked at our most recent sales figures, just on a monthly basis, that the activated-charcoal drink was outselling our green juice.

"I think a lot of that has to do with the marketing aspect as well, especially these days with all these Instagram influencers and people looking for cool content."

Activated charcoal is largely flavourless and often derived from coconut husks. It's traditionally used in acute cases like poisoning because it can bind up toxins in the gut by a process called adsorption, says Josh Gitalis, a functional medicine practitioner and clinical nutritionist in Toronto.

"It uses an electrical charge and there are microscopic spaces in the activated charcoal where all the toxins go into, and then it helps your body eliminate it so you're not absorbing it into the bloodstream," he says.

Gitalis says he always has activated charcoal on hand at home and when travelling in the event of food poisoning or consumption of contaminated water. He advises buying certified activated charcoal that has a Natural Product Number and only administering it after calling a poison control centre and getting guidance.

Some health experts also caution not to take activated charcoal at the same time as prescription drugs, as it can interfere with their absorption.

Activated charcoal has also been used in water filters and marketed as a tooth-whitening agent and as a topical treatment for things like bug bites and poison ivy rash.

It's becoming popular in part because of a growing interest in gut health, says Andrea Hardy, a registered dietitian in Calgary.

Hardy says the tiny amount being put into mainstream food items like ice cream these days won't hurt unless consumed in extremely large quantities. But it also likely won't have any major beneficial effects either, she adds.

"There are no studies that support that ... there are toxins in your gut that you have to worry about unless you've taken something you shouldn't in a dose you shouldn't," says Hardy.

"If people are looking for it truly for gut health, I think there are far better things that are going to promote gut health than using activated charcoal."

D'Aoust says she doesn't market her ice cream as healthy, noting it's more of a novelty that particularly appeals to the millennial generation.

"Some people come into the store and they say, 'Oh, so it's a healthy dessert' and we say, 'No, absolutely not. There are some detox properties to the charcoal but it doesn't mean that it's going to cut any of the sugar or anything else that's in the cone or in the ice cream,"' says D'Aoust.

"Ice cream is ice cream. But in some ways I do know that it does have detox properties. I say everything in moderation."

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