Rhino horn is made up of keratin, the stuff that makes up our skin and nails, not bone as is commonly believed. So in reality, rhino horn is no more effective as a medicine than hair or fingernails. That said, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) uses rhino horn to treat fevers and convulsions (not as an aphrodisiac, that’s an urban legend). Naturally, it doesn’t work, but that doesn’t stop some from prescribing it.
Rhino horns have traditionally been used in Chinese medicine since ancient times, most commonly as an antipyretic medicine to reduce fever. Because rhino horn is believed by some to be medically helpful, an illegal rhino horn trade has developed that is responsible for diminishing the worldwide rhino population by 90%. There has been some debate over whether or not rhino horn is medically effective. The World Wildlife Fund and the International Union for Conservation of Nature published a 1983 study by researchers at Hoffmann-LaRoche found that there is actually no evidence that rhino horns have any medicinal effect. The study confirmed that rhino horn “has no analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmolytic nor diuretic properties” and that it was also ineffective against bacteria. The only time rhino horn was found to reduce fever was in rats who were given 100 times the prescribed dosage.
Rhino horns are often utilized in traditional medicine in a wide range of Asian countries. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is still believed that shaved or powdered rhino horn taken as a tea can be an effective treatment for fever, rheumatism, and gout. Historically, it has been used for snakebites, hallucinations, typhoid, headaches, vomiting, food poisoning, and many other afflictions. To address some of these beliefs, modern scientists have found that large amounts of rhino horn extract lowered fevers in rats by a very small degree, and that the amount of horn traditionally prescribed is much lower than the amount needed to see even a small decrease. Overall, it seems that there is not much real basis for the curing power of rhino horn.
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