Absinthe thujone is the chemical seen in Absinthe’s vital ingredient, the plant identified as Common Wormwood, or Artemisia Absinthium to give it its botanical name absinthekit. The compound thujone was partly accountable for Absinthe being banned in the early 1900s in many countries around the world and thujone is still tightly regulated today, particularly in the United States (or states united).
Thujone was regarded as just like THC present in cannabis and Absinthe was alleged 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 and their genius. Well-known Absinthe drinkers include Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Degas, Baudelaire and Verlaine. Some point out that Van Gogh’s madness was brought on by Absinthe and that he cut off his ear under its influence. Absinthe was even held responsible for a man murdering his family, although he had consumed a number of other strong alcoholic drinks right after the Absinthe.
Prohibition campaigners used news of the murder to campaign for the suspending of Absinthe and charged France’s growing problems of alcohol addiction to the emerald liquor.
Is Absinthe Thujone Dangerous?
Today’s studies suggest 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 used when taking in Absinthe. Thujone is just present in minute quantities and should therefore cause no major side effects or health issues. The EU stipulates that alcoholic beverages with an ABV (alcohol by volume) level over 25% may only have a maximum of 10mg/kg of thujone, beverages classed as “bitters” can contain as much as 35mg/kg, it isn’t completely clear which class Absinthe matches but many 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 amounts of thujone.
High doses of thujone may be dangerous triggering convulsions nevertheless 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 before then!
It is said that Henri-Louis Pernod, who owned the initial Absinthe distillery, used the herbs wormwood, aniseed, fennel, lemon balm, hyssop, angelica root, dittany, star anise, nutmeg, juniper and veronica to make his famous Pernod Absinthe. The essential oil from these herbs is mainly responsible for La Louche, the clouding which comes about when water is included with Absinthe. These herbs specially the aniseed and anise are accountable for the distinctive aniseed or licorice taste of Absinthe and wormwood is mainly responsible for the bitter flavor. Absinthe is usually used as bitters in cocktails.
There are many brands of Absinthe or Absinthe substitutes that have been developed during the ban and thus contain no Absinthe thujone or wormwood, however, many would claim that Absinthe isn’t Absinthe without Absinthe thujone and the bitter taste of wormwood. If you want real Absinthe try to find brands that contain wormwood or Absinthe thujone.