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Other Names

zhu sha
Mercuric sulfide
Mercury sulfide
Mercury (II) sulfide


toxic, sweet, cooling.

Channels Entered:

Heart/Mind (ShaoYin) [1]


Sedates the Heart/Mind, calms the spirit, expels Phlegm, stops tremors, calms convulsions, clears heat, prevents putrefaction.[1]


Phlegm-heat blocking the Heart/Mind and Pericardium (like mania, convulsions, etc)
Used topically for sores and poisonous bites


Magnetite (ci shi 磁石 / ci tie kuang 磁鐵礦 ) adds to the calming and sedative effects by containing floating Yang and augmenting Yin, and also assists in re-establishing the communication between the Heart and Kidneys.[1]

Other uses

Cinnabar was used to add vermilion pigmentation to paintings, ceramics, and tattoos, but because of its toxicity is rarely used today for that purpose.
Vermilion was useful in preserving human bones from 5,000 years ago; remarkably well-preserved human bones have been found in the dolmenic burial ‘La Velilla’ in Osorno (Palencia, Spain) which were carefully covered by pulverized cinnabar (vermillion) which ensured their preservation even in non-favorable climatic conditions. Chemical and thermal analyses of the vermilion demonstrated great purity and showed that the cinnabar was pulverized and washed (but not heated), producing a bright red-orange tone.[8]

Known Toxicity or Adverse Reactions

If cinnabar is heated to decomposition, it emits toxic fumes of hydrogen sulfide ( H2S ), oxides of sulfur ( SOx ) and oxides of mercury ( HgO ).
Cinnabar is insoluble and poorly absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract; it is chemically inert with a relatively low toxic potential when taken orally.[2]
The provisional tolerable weekly intake of inorganic mercury is 4 µg/kg of body weight.[5]
Absorbed mercury from cinnabar is mainly accumulated in the kidneys and resembles the disposition pattern of inorganic mercury.[2]
Long term use of cinnabar can cause renal dysfunction.[2]
The doses of cinnabar required to produce neurotoxicity are thousands of times higher than methylmercury.[2]
Fetuses are the most susceptible to developmental effects of mercury and therefore cinnabar should never be used during pregnancy.[3]
It should be noted that every person on earth is exposed to some mercury.[3]
Some pharmaceuticals and vaccines use a small amount mercury known as ethylmercury. Ethylmercury passes through the body and small amounts are not considered a health risk.[3]


Prolonged use of cinnabar in mice demonstrated that it was significantly absorbed by gastrointestinal tract and transported to brain tissues. [4]
Changes in NOx levels and Na+/K+-ATPase activities appear to be the underlying mechanism of the toxicological effects of cinnabar, which may supply an important and useful biomarker in offspring exposure to low dose and long-term mercuric compounds-induced neurotoxicity. [6]
Accumulation of Hg in MeHg and HgCl2 treated mice was 96 and 71-fold higher than controls, respectively, but was only 2-fold after cinnabar and An Gong Niu Huang Wan administration; Expressions of metallothionein-1 and heme oxygenase-1, biomarkers for Hg toxicity, were increased by MeHg and HgCl2, but were not altered in cinnabar and An Gong Niu Huang treated mice.[7]

1. Benskey, Dan; Clavey, Steven; Stöger, Erich; Gamble, Andrew; Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica 3rd Edition Estland Press, Inc. 2004 pages 915, 1043-1045
2. Jie Liu, Jing-Zheng Shi, Li-Mei Yu, Robert A. Goyer, and Michael P. Waalkes, Mercury in traditional medicines: Is cinnabar toxicologically similar to common mercurials? July 2008
3. World Health Organization: Mercury and Health Fact Sheet updated March 2017
4. Chun-Fa Huang, Shing-Hwa Liu, Shoei-Yn Lin-Shiau Neurotoxicological effects of cinnabar (a Chinese mineral medicine, HgS) in mice Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology Volume 224, Issue 2, 15 October 2007, Pages 192-201
6. Chun-Fa Huang, Chuan-Jen Hsu, Shing-Hwa Liu, and Shoei-Yn Lin-Shiau Exposure to Low Dose of Cinnabar (a Naturally Occurring Mercuric Sulfide (HgS)) Caused Neurotoxicological Effects in Offspring Mice Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology Volume 2012, Article ID 254582, 12 pages
7. Yuan-Fu Lu, Qin Wu, Shi-Xia Liang, Jia-Wei Miao, Jing-Shan Shi, Jie Liu, Evaluation of hepatotoxicity potential of cinnabar-containing An Gong Niu Huang Wan, a patent traditional Chinese medicine Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology Volume 60, Issue 2, July 2011, Pages 206-211
8. J. Martín-GilF; J. Martín-GilG; Delibes-de-CastroP; Zapatero-MagdalenoF. J.; Sarabia-Herrero; The First Known Use of Vermilion Experientia August 1995, Volume 51, Issue 8, pp 759–761 doi:10.1007/BF01922425


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