from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A bitter crystalline compound, C10H12O4, that is the active ingredient of cantharides and produces blistering of the skin.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A volatile organic compound in cantharis, or Spanish fly.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. The active principle of the cantharis, or Spanish fly, a volatile, acrid, bitter solid, crystallizing in four-sided prisms.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. A peculiar poisonous substance (C5H6O2) existing in the Cantharis vesicatoria (Spanish fly) and other insects, and causing vesication.


Sorry, no etymologies found.


  • As soon you took it in your hand, your body heat and the moisture on your fingers activated the cantharidin and you started to blister.

    The Killing Kind

  • “The card was infused with a fluid called cantharidin, concentrated cantharidin,” she continued.

    The Killing Kind

  • The method has also proved valuable in a great many ways in research into the constitution of complex natural products; these include the resinic acids and cantharidin, the active substance - with very peculiar chemical properties - of the "Spanish fly" (which is actually a beetle).

    Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1950 - Presentation Speech

  • Hot water will now dissolve out _picrotoxin_, _colchicin_, and _digitalin_, but not cantharidin.

    Aids to Forensic Medicine and Toxicology

  • Jaua said the possibility "remains open" that arsenic prescribed as a medical treatment was a factor, or perhaps cantharidin, a compound which despite being toxic was consumed by some at the time.

    The Seattle Times

  • PP2A, PP4 or PP5 may have to be considered as additional targets in the synergistic cooperation with proteasome inhibitors, since they all are inhibited by cantharidin, and have been implicated in contributing to apoptosis regulation

    PLoS ONE Alerts: New Articles

  • The salubrinal / cantharidin-sensitive phosphatase activity nevertheless seemed to be required to maintain viability in the face of extended proteasome inhibition and when this activity was blocked, cell viability was reduced or lost.

    PLoS ONE Alerts: New Articles

  • Neither cantharidin nor okadaic acid can inhibit activities of this phosphatase.

    PLoS ONE Alerts: New Articles

  • This notion is also supported by the observation that substitution of salubrinal with subtoxic concentrations of the phosphatase inhibitor cantharidin induced a comparable increase in PSI-mediated cytotoxicity, whereas the PP2B / calcineurin inhibitor cypermethrin proved to be ineffective.

    PLoS ONE Alerts: New Articles

  • This concentration of cantharidin is well below the reported IC50 for growth inhibition of various tumor cell lines

    PLoS ONE Alerts: New Articles


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  • See also cantharides. A very dangerous poison with little or no true aphrodisiac effects (despite its reputation to the contrary):

    "Cantharidin is a comparatively simple organic compound which occurs as colourless, odourless crystals. These glisten in light yet give no colour reactions and cannot be detected by any simple chemical test. The old powdered preparations of Spanish fly could be identified by using a microscope to show the characteristic fragments of insect in the powder. Identifying pure cantharidin was still a much more difficult task..."

    —Michael Howell and Peter Ford, The Ghost Disease, and Twelve Other Stories of Detective Work in the Medical Field, (New York: Penguin Books, 1985), 259

    "The drug can penetrate unbroken skin, with toxic, if not fatal, results. Only a year before, in 1953, a keen 43-year-old fisherman had managed to obtain some cantharidin, believing it would attract fish. After shaking up the powder with water, he stopped the mouth of the bottle with his thumb, and then, within minutes, unfortunately pricked his thumb with one of the fish-hooks. Within half an hour the fisherman was ill, within three days dead." (261)

    September 11, 2008