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 chemical thujone was partly the cause of Absinthe being banned in the early 1900s in many 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 seen in cannabis and Absinthe was alleged to be psychoactive and have psychedelic effects creating hallucinations and insanity. Absinthe was favored by the Bohemian set in Montmartre in Paris and several artists and writers claimed that Absinthe, the Green Fairy, gave them inspiration in addition to their genius. Well-known 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 control alcoholplant. Absinthe was even held responsible for a man murdering his family, even though he had ingested a number of 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 dependency on the emerald liquor.
Is Absinthe Thujone Dangerous?
Today’s research suggests that it was actually the alcohol (ethanol) content of Absinthe which was dangerous rather than the thujone. Absinthe is two times as 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 ought to therefore cause no major unwanted effects or health problems. The EU stipulates that booze with an ABV (alcohol by volume) level over 25% might only have a maximum of 10mg/kg of thujone, beverages classed as “bitters” can contain up to 35mg/kg, it isn’t completely 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 simply legal to get or sell Absinthes with trace quantities of thujone.
High doses of thujone could be dangerous causing convulsions however 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 before then!
It is known that Henri-Louis Pernod, who owned the initial Absinthe distillery, utilized 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 all of these herbs is responsible for La Louche, the clouding which occurs when water is included with Absinthe. These herbs especially the aniseed and anise are responsible 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 several brands of Absinthe or Absinthe substitutes that were developed over 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 containing wormwood or Absinthe thujone.