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 substance thujone was partly accountable for Absinthe being banned in early 1900s in several countries across the world and thujone remains tightly regulated today, especially in the United States (or states united).
Thujone was considered to be similar to THC seen in cannabis and Absinthe was speculated to be psychoactive and have psychedelic effects triggering hallucinations and insanity. Absinthe was popular with the Bohemian set in Montmartre in Paris and several artists and writers claimed that Absinthe, the Green Fairy, gave them inspiration as well as their genius. Renowned Absinthe drinkers include Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Degas, Baudelaire and Verlaine. Some say that Van Gogh’s madness was due to Absinthe and that he cut off his ear under its effect alcoholplant. Absinthe was even blamed for a man murdering his family, despite the fact that he had consumed many other strong alcoholic drinks following the Absinthe.
Prohibition campaigners used news of the murder to campaign for the outlawing of Absinthe and charged France’s growing problems of alcohol addiction on the emerald liquor.
Is Absinthe Thujone Unsafe?
Today’s research suggests that it was actually the alcohol (ethanol) content of Absinthe that’s dangerous instead of the thujone. Absinthe is doubly strong as spirits like whisky and vodka and can be 75% alcohol. Care should therefore be utilized when consuming Absinthe. Thujone is simply present in minute quantities and ought to therefore cause no major side effects or health problems. The EU stipulates that alcoholic beverages with an ABV (alcohol by volume) level over 25% may possibly contain a maximum of 10mg/kg of thujone, beverages classed as “bitters” can contain as much as 35mg/kg, it isn’t totally clear which class Absinthe fits into 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 buy or sell Absinthes with trace levels of thujone.
High doses of thujone can be dangerous triggering convulsions but you will have to drink a large amount of Absinthe to consume that quantity of thujone and it will be impossible to drink that amount, you would be comatosed from alcohol until then!
It is said that Henri-Louis Pernod, who owned the very first Absinthe distillery, used 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 added to Absinthe. These herbs specially the aniseed and anise are accountable 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 in the ban and thus 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 try to find brands that contains wormwood or Absinthe thujone.