Absinthe thujone is the chemical seen in Absinthe’s vital ingredient, the plant known as Common Wormwood, or Artemisia Absinthium to give it its botanical name. The compound thujone was partly accountable for Absinthe being banned in early 1900s in several countries around the globe and thujone continues to be tightly regulated today, especially in the United States (or states united).
Thujone was considered to be similar to THC present in cannabis and Absinthe was purported to be psychoactive and possess psychedelic effects producing hallucinations and insanity. Absinthe was favored by the Bohemian set in Montmartre in Paris and several artists and writers believed that Absinthe, the Green Fairy, gave them inspiration and their genius. Famous Absinthe drinkers include Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Degas, Baudelaire and Verlaine. Some claim that Van Gogh’s madness was caused by Absinthe and that he cut off his ear under its effect http://alcoholplant.com. Absinthe was even held accountable for a man murdering his family, despite the fact that he had consumed a great many other strong alcoholic drinks following the Absinthe.
Prohibition campaigners used news of the murder to campaign for the banning of Absinthe and blamed France’s growing problems of alcohol addiction on the emerald liquor.
Is Absinthe Thujone Unsafe?
Today’s research suggests that it was in fact the alcohol (ethanol) content of Absinthe that was dangerous instead of the thujone. Absinthe is doubly strong as spirits like whisky and vodka and can be 75% alcohol. Care should therefore be used when ingesting Absinthe. Thujone is just present in minute quantities and must therefore cause no major negative effects or health problems. The EU stipulates that alcohol based drinks with an ABV (alcohol by volume) level over 25% might only consist of a maximum of 10mg/kg of thujone, beverages classed as “bitters” can contain up to 35mg/kg, it isn’t totally clear which class Absinthe fits into but most brands of Absinthe have much less than 35mg with a lot of being under 10mg/kg. In the US it is only legal to purchase or sell Absinthes with trace levels of thujone.
High doses of thujone may be dangerous triggering convulsions but you would need to drink a substantial amount of Absinthe to consume that quantity of thujone and it will be impossible to drink that amount, you’d be comatosed from alcohol until then!
It is known that Henri-Louis Pernod, who owned the first Absinthe distillery, used the herbs wormwood, aniseed, fennel, lemon balm, hyssop, angelica root, dittany, star anise, nutmeg, juniper and veronica to create 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 especially the aniseed and anise are responsible for the distinctive aniseed or licorice taste of Absinthe and wormwood is responsible for the bitter flavor. Absinthe is oftentimes used as bitters in cocktails.
There are lots of brands of Absinthe or Absinthe substitutes which were developed during the ban and so contain no Absinthe thujone or wormwood, but many would claim that Absinthe just isn’t Absinthe without Absinthe thujone and the bitter taste of wormwood. If you want real Absinthe search for brands that contain wormwood or Absinthe thujone.