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Herd in-stink-t: A brief look at cow dung and cow urine therapy

“Hindu nationalists in India have launched a marketing exercise to promote cow’s urine as a health cure. They say the urine, being sold for 30p a bottle, can be used for ailments ranging from liver disease to obesity and even cancer. The urine is being sold under the label ‘Gift of the Cow’, and is being enthusiastically promoted by the government of Gujarat. The urine is collected every day from almost 600 shelters for rescued and wounded cattle, and is available in about 50 centres in Gujarat. It also comes in tablets or a cream mixed with other traditional medicinal herbs and demand is currently outstripping supply…The healing properties of cow dung and cow’s urine are mentioned in ancient Hindu texts and authorities claim research conducted by doctors at the cow-protection commission indicates the urine can cure anything from skin diseases, kidney and liver ailments to obesity and heart ailments. Although most Indian doctors view the medicines as eccentric, several advocates of the treatment have come forward in Gujarat to support the claims…They include Vidhyaben Mehta, a 65-year-old woman with a cancerous tumour on her chest who has been taking cow’s urine for the past three years. She says she is no longer in pain and has survived in spite of medical predictions that she would die two years ago” (News report, India Divine website, February 17, 2002).

As regular readers of my blog will know, I’m not averse to writing about matters concerning bodily waste products (i.e., urine and faeces) in that I have covered urophilia (sexual arousal to urine), coprophilia (sexual arousal to faeces), zoocoprophilia (sexual arousal to animal faeces), copraphagia (eating human and/or animal faeces), and the making of jenkem (fermenting human urine and faeces as a way of getting high and intoxicated). Today’s blog takes a brief look at the use of cow urine and cow dung for allegedly medicinal purposes.

As far as I am aware, the only country in the world that uses cow dung and cow urine to treat disease and illness is India. Much of the reasoning behind the use of cow waste products to treat illness is rooted in Hindu beliefs about the cow. Many of you reading this will be aware of the ‘sacred cow’ in Hindu religion. However, as a number of articles I have read on Hindu culture point out, Hindus don’t actually worship cows (in the sense that they worship a deity), but ‘respect, honour and adore’ them because cows give more than they take, and for Hindus, cows symbolize all other animals. In Hindu religion, the cow also symbolizes dignity, strength, endurance, maternity and selfless service. As one article I read noted:

“To the Hindu, the cow symbolizes all other creatures. The cow is a symbol of the Earth, the nourisher, the ever-giving, undemanding provider. The cow represents life and the sustenance of life. The cow is so generous, taking nothing but water, grass and grain. It gives and gives and gives of its milk, as does the liberated soul give of his spiritual knowledge. The cow is so vital to life, the virtual sustainer of life, for many humans. The cow is a symbol of grace and abundance. Veneration of the cow instils in Hindus the virtues of gentleness, receptivity and connectedness with nature…The generous cow gives milk and cream, yogurt and cheese, butter and ice cream, ghee and buttermilk. It gives entirely of itself through sirloin, ribs, rump, porterhouse and beef stew. Its bones are the base for soup broths and glues. It gives the world leather belts, leather seats, leather coats and shoes, beef jerky, cowboy hats – you name it”.

All over India, the cow is honoured, garlanded and given special feedings at festivals (including the Gopashtama annual festival). But where does the use of cow urine and cow dung come in? Basically, the five products (pancagavya) of the cow – milk, curds, ghee butter, urine and dung — are all used in Hindu worship (puja), in addition to extreme penance rites. As another article I read explains:

“The milk of the family cow nourishes children as they grow up, and cow dung (gobar) is a major source of energy for households throughout India. Cow dung is sometimes among the materials used for a tilak – a ritual mark on the forehead. Most Indians do not share the western revulsion at cow excrement, but instead consider it an earthy and useful natural product…[Over time] Hindus stopped eating beef. This was mostly like for practical reasons as well as spiritual. It was expensive to slaughter an animal for religious rituals or for a guest, and the cow provided an abundance of important products, including milk, browned butter for lamps, and fuel from dried dung”.

As a result of Hinduism’s reverence of the cow, cow urine and cow dung has become big business in India’s Nagpur region. Scientific research into the health benefits of cattle waste products is being carried out by Go-vigyan, a research and development organization. Some of the products that Go-vigyan makes (and I’m not making this up) include cow urine shampoo and cow dung toothpaste.

Cow dung and urine are used in the treatment of several disorders including renal disorders, leucoderma, arthritis, and hyperlipidemia. It’s also been claimed that panchagavya products show excellent agricultural applications. For instance, cow urine and neem leaves have been combined to make pesticides and insect repellent. The best selling medicine in the Nagpur region is Gomutra Ark, which is nothing more than distilled cow urine (Go=Cow, Mutra=Urine, Ark=medicine). Those who take it believe it can prevent and/or cure anything from the common cold to cancer, tuberculosis, and AIDS.

If you go onto YouTube, there are quite a few short video clips showing urine being massaged from cows and dung being collected in cattle sheds. Skilled cow handlers massage and encourage the cows to urinate. There are also clips of Indian women making cow dung soap. I wouldn’t have believed it myself if I hadn’t watched it with my own eyes. You can also check out photos of Indian women undergoing cow dung therapy at the Science Photo Library.

It’s difficult to assess the extent to which there is a placebo effect operating here but there’s no doubting some people’s beliefs that cow dung and urine are miracle cures for a wide range of illnesses and diseases. There’s even a dedicated webpage of testimonials from people who claim they have been cured of their diseases (e.g., AIDS, cancer, heart problems, etc.) by cow urine. I did come across a 2009 academic paper by Dr. R.S. Chauhan and colleagues in The Indian Cow: The Scientific and Economic Journal. They reported that cow urine had been granted U.S. Patents (No. 6896907 and 6,410,059) for its medicinal properties “particularly for its use along with antibiotics for the control of bacterial infection and fight against cancers. Through extensive research studies a cow urine distillate fraction, popularly known as ‘ark’, has been identified as a bioenhancer of the activities of commonly used antibiotics, anti-fungal and anti-cancer drugs”.

The authors reviewed the literature on the use of cow urine for medicinal purposes and reported that cow urine therapy provides promising results for the treatment of cancer. They noted that the anti-cancer potential of cow urine therapy was “reflected by several case reports, success stories and practical feedback of patients for the treatment of cancer”. They claimed that cow urine “enhances the immunocompetence and improves general health of an individual; prevent the free radicals formation and act as anti-aging factor; reduces apoptosis in lymphocytes and helps them to survive; and efficiently repairs the damaged DNA, thus is effective for the cancer therapy”. They also claimed experiments (presumably done in India) proved that cow urine above all other urine was the most medically effective as “scientific validation of cow urine therapy is required for its worldwide acceptance and popularity”. I remain open to the idea that cow urine may be of medical benefit, but remain to be convinced on what I have read to date.

http://www.cowurine.com/testimonials.html

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Chauhan, R.S., Dhama, K. & Lokesh, S. (2009). Anti-cancer property of cow urine. The Indian Cow: The Scientific and Economic Journal, 5(19), 22-58.

Joseph, M. (2004). Cattle, the research catalyst. Wired, November 16. Located at: http://www.wired.com/culture/lifestyle/news/2004/11/65717

Go-Vigyan Anusandhan Kendra (undated). Medical products development. Located at: http://www.govigyan.com/medicalproducts.htm

India Yogi (undated). Why is the cow ‘sacred’? Located at: http://www.indiayogi.com/content/symbolism/answer.aspx?id=3

Nair, R.J. (2010). Cow dung, urine as medicine? Discovery News, March 2. http://news.discovery.com/human/health/cow-dung-medicine-spiritual-india.htm

National Hindu Students Forum (2004). Why do Hindus worship the cow? Located at: http://www.nhsf.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=526 (reprinted from an article in Hinduism Today)

Religion Facts (2012). The cow in Hinduism. December 21. Located at: http://www.religionfacts.com/hinduism/things/cow.htm

High interest: Is jenkem hokum?

While I was researching a previous blog on “cremainlining” (i.e., people who allegedly snort the ashes of dead people), I came across a number of press stories (all from the end of 2007) that American teenagers were allegedly using ‘jenkem’ and that it was becoming an epidemic in terms of its usage. Since the 2007 reports surfaced in the US, many further press reports and stories have questioned whether there is any evidence of jenkem use at all.

For those who have no idea what I am talking about, jenkum is a street drug (allegedly an auditory and visual hallucinatory inhalant) that is made from fermented human faeces and urine and according to users is more potent than cannabis and (according to news reports) gives “a powerful high” and has dissociation properties. The effects are alleged to last for about an hour, and it is sometimes known by the name ‘butthash’. Emma Guest describes jenkem as:

“Fermented human sewage, scraped from pipes and stored in plastic bags for a week or so, until it gives off numbing, intoxicating fumes” (from her 2003 book Children of AIDS: Africa’s Orphan Crisis)

Reports of its use first surfaced during the 1990s when news stories (including one by the BBC) started appearing about its use by Zambian children and teenagers living in Lusaka because it cost next to nothing to make. The correspondent who covered the story for the BBC (Ishbel Matheson) witnessed the practice first-hand:

At the Lusaka sewage ponds, two teenage boys plunge their hands into the dark brown sludge, gathering up fistfuls and stuffing it into small plastic bottles. They tap the bottles on the ground, taking care to leave enough room for methane to form at the top. A sour smell rises in the hot sun, but the boys seem oblivious to the stench and the foul nature of their task. They are manufacturing ‘Jenkem’, a disgusting, noxious mixture made from fermented sewage. It is cheap, potent and very popular among the thousands of street-children in Lusaka. When they cannot afford glue or are too scared to steal petrol, these youngsters turn to Jenkem as a way of getting high… Nobody knows exactly where the idea for making Jenkem came from, but it has been used by street-children in Lusaka for at least two years. Nason Banda of the Drug Enforcement Agency is not proud when he says that it is unique to Zambia. He shudders when he sees the boys at the sewage ponds, scavenging for faecal matter to make Jenkem”.

Jenkem derives its name from an African brand of glue named ‘Genkum’ which became the generic name for all types of glue used by African teenage glue sniffers. According to an interview conducted by Jamie Pietras in Salon magazine, Fumito Ichinose (an American expert on anesthesia was quoted as saying that “the inhalation of gases like those produced from jenkem could result in hypoxia, a lack of oxygen flow to the body that could be alternately euphoric and physically dangerous”. Pietras also reported that:

“Psychedelic researchers are unconvinced that huffing fecal fumes ever caught on in the U.S. ‘It is potentially believable to me that a handful of extremely experimental people have tried this, but it is also quite easy for me to believe that no one in the U.S. has actually produced and inhaled sewage gas of their own,’ says Earth Erowid, co-creator of Erowid.com, a repository of documented narcotic experiences, in an e-mail. The communications director for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, Jag Davies, is equally skeptical. Davies says no one at MAPS, which supports research into the medical use of hallucinogens, has heard of jenkem use and certainly not jenkem research in the United States”.

An article on jenkum in Wikipedia reported that:

In 2002, Project Concern International Zambia and Fountain of Hope released a report entitled ‘Rapid Assessment of Street Children In Lusaka’ where jenkem is listed as the third most popular drug among Lusaka’s street children, following Dagga (cannabis) and “glue and Dagga” but ahead of ‘Ballan’ (uncured tobacco) and petrol”.

It wasn’t until September 2007 that alleged use of jenkem by American adolescents first emerged following a bulletin about jenkem use issued by Corporal Disarro at Collier County’s Sheriff’s Department in Florida. The bulletin was instigated following an email to Disarro from a concerned parent regarding “a new drug called Jenkem”. The parent told Disarro that her child had learned about Jenkem through various conversations with several students at Palmetto Ridge High school. Disarro then researched the existence of the drug including a report on the TOTSE website.

However, the bulletin distributed across many US states was based on information from the dubious TOTSE website, and later admitted as a hoax by the person who posted the original article. (The TOTSE – Temple of the Screaming Electron – website was based in San Francisco and published on controversial and/or unusual subjects). However, the story spread and was reported by many major US news outlets including the Washington Post newspaper and the Fox News television channel. The story eventually spread to other countries including national television coverage in Australia.

From all my own reading on the topic it would appear that some American teenagers have tried jenkem (most likely as a result of hearing about it on the news) and even video recorded the experience. There are certainly videos on YouTube of jenkem being made and used. However, there doesn’t appear to be any evidence for widespread jenkem use except perhaps in Lusaka where the story originated.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK 

Further reading

Guest, E. (2003). Children of AIDS: Africa’s Orphan Crisis. London: Pluto Press.

Matheson, I. (1999). Children high on sewage. BBC News, July 30. Located at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/406067.stm

Mikkelson, B. & Mikkelson, D. (2011). Jenkum. Snopes.com, July 28. Located at: http://www.snopes.com/crime/warnings/jenkem.asp

Morgan, S. (2007). Drug Scare: Kids in Florida are Getting High by Sniffing Feces. Stop The Drug War, November 5. Located at: http://stopthedrugwar.org/speakeasy/2007/nov/05/drug_scare_kids_florida_are_gett

Pietras, J. (2007). Smoke this! Salon, November 9. Located at: http://www.salon.com/2007/11/09/jenkem/

Wikipedia (2012). Jenkem. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jenkem