Absinthe thujone is the chemical present in Absinthe’s vital ingredient, the plant referred to as Common Wormwood, or Artemisia Absinthium to give it its botanical name. The chemical thujone was partly responsible for Absinthe being banned during the early 1900s in several countries around the globe and thujone is still tightly regulated today, particularly in the United States (or states united).
Thujone was thought to be similar to THC present in cannabis and Absinthe was purported to be psychoactive and possess psychedelic effects triggering hallucinations and insanity. Absinthe was well-liked by the Bohemian set in Montmartre in Paris and many artists and writers claimed that Absinthe, the Green Fairy, gave them inspiration in addition to their genius. Famous Absinthe drinkers include Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Degas, Baudelaire and Verlaine. Some say that Van Gogh’s madness was brought on by Absinthe and that he cut off his ear under its effect alcoholplant.com. Absinthe was even held accountable for a man murdering his family, even though he had taken a number of other strong alcoholic drinks after the Absinthe.
Prohibition campaigners used news of the murder to campaign for the suspending of Absinthe and blamed France’s growing problems of alcoholism to the emerald liquor.
Is Absinthe Thujone Unsafe?
Today’s research suggests that it was actually the alcohol (ethanol) content of Absinthe which was dangerous instead of the thujone. Absinthe is twice as strong as spirits like whisky and vodka and can be 75% alcohol. Care should therefore be taken when consuming Absinthe. Thujone is only contained in minute quantities and ought to therefore cause no major unwanted effects or health problems. The EU stipulates that alcohol based drinks with an ABV (alcohol by volume) level over 25% may only consist of a maximum of 10mg/kg of thujone, beverages classed as “bitters” can contain as much as 35mg/kg, it’s not entirely clear which class Absinthe fits into but most brands of Absinthe have much less than 35mg with many being under 10mg/kg. In the US it is simply legal to get or sell Absinthes with trace quantities of thujone.
High doses of thujone could be dangerous causing convulsions however you would need to drink a large amount of Absinthe to consume that amount of thujone and it might be impossible to drink that amount, you would be comatosed from alcohol until then!
It is known that Henri-Louis Pernod, who owned the initial Absinthe distillery, employed the herbs wormwood, aniseed, fennel, lemon balm, hyssop, angelica root, dittany, star anise, nutmeg, juniper and veronica to produce his famous Pernod Absinthe. The essential oil from all of these herbs is mainly responsible for La Louche, the clouding which comes about when water is put into Absinthe. These herbs particularly the aniseed and anise are responsible for the distinctive aniseed or licorice taste of Absinthe and wormwood is liable for the bitter flavor. Absinthe is usually used as bitters in cocktails.
There are many brands of Absinthe or Absinthe substitutes that were developed in the ban and therefore contain no Absinthe thujone or wormwood, but some would state that Absinthe just isn’t Absinthe without Absinthe thujone and the bitter taste of wormwood. If you’d like real Absinthe try to find brands that contain wormwood or Absinthe thujone.