IT IS a "natural remedy" that is supposedly able to cure cancer, diabetes, dengue and a host of other conditions.
It is also recommended for surgical patients to help recover from surgical wounds and fevers.
This "miracle cure" that has been circulating the Internet and through the word-of-mouth is none other than porcupine bezoar stones. And it is a con.
A bezoar is a mass of food trapped in an animal's digestive system, usually from consuming grass and herbs. Traditional medicine practitioners claim that porcupine bezoar has many healing properties.
There's high demand for porcupine bezoars in Malaysia, and it is said that medicinal shops can charge as much as RM700 for under half a gram.
Senior communications officer of Traffic Southeast Asia Elizabeth John said one species of porcupine is a totally protected making the sale of their bezoars totally illegal. The other two species of porcupine are protected, and sale of unlicensed porcupine bezoars are also illegal.
She says that it is also an unregistered traditional medicine, where the bezoars' healing properties are based solely on testimony and not research.
"It doesn't go through any Government health screening processes," said Elizabeth, adding that there are also many fake porcupine bezoars that may cause more harm than good.
Not all porcupines produce bezoars. Elizabeth says that harvesters would make the porcupine sick to encourage them to produce one.
According to reports, porcupines are captured from the wild and cramped into cages. The porcupines are later butchered for its meat and to harvest bezoar stones from its stomach.
However, many people don't think twice about where the medicine is coming from and are willing to spend thousands for this "magic" cure.
One of my colleagues said that she bought porcupine bezoars from traditional medicine shops in Malaysia for her mother who had cancer.
"I paid a few thousand Ringgit for very little," she said, after her mother heard about the medicine from another cancer patient.
"My aunt also bought some for her son who had dengue," my colleague told me.
But when I asked her if the medicine worked, she said that it didn't. Her mother has sadly since passed away from her cancer.
Another colleague said that her friend spent hundreds to get hold of "a really tiny amount" of porcupine bezoars when he was suffering from dengue fever.
"He was scared and desperate. Somebody told him to do it, and he did," said my other colleague.
I don't believe that porcupine bezoar is the miracle cure we are looking for – it is merely a quick-fix gimmick from illegal traders trying to make easy cash.
There is no guarantee that bezoar stones will cure people of cancer, diabetes or dengue.
Knowing how porcupines are suffering at farms so that their meat and bezoars can be harvested for our consumption is a terrible thought.
Even if I was sick, I personally would not want to contribute to the illegal trade of porcupine bezoars.
If I were to use porcupine bezoars to heal, I would not feel good about my recovery knowing that a porcupine had suffered a terrible death for my benefit. I would rather find alternative remedies.
> The views expressed are entirely the writer's own