Absinthe thujone is the chemical present in Absinthe’s vital ingredient, the plant identified as Common Wormwood, or Artemisia Absinthium to give it its botanical name www.absinthekit.com/articles. The chemical thujone was partly responsible for Absinthe being banned during the early 1900s in several countries around the world 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 speculated to be psychoactive and have psychedelic effects causing hallucinations and insanity. Absinthe was favored by the Bohemian set in Montmartre in Paris and lots of 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 claim that Van Gogh’s madness was brought on by Absinthe and that he cut off his ear under its control. Absinthe was even blamed for a man murdering his family, despite the fact that he had consumed a number of other strong alcoholic drinks following the Absinthe.
Prohibition campaigners used news of the murder to campaign for the banning 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 in fact the alcohol (ethanol) content of Absinthe that was dangerous instead of the thujone. Absinthe is two times as strong as spirits like whisky and vodka and can be 75% alcohol. Care should therefore be taken when taking in Absinthe. Thujone is simply contained in minute quantities and ought to therefore cause no major side effects or health issues. The EU stipulates that alcohol based drinks with an ABV (alcohol by volume) level over 25% may only contain a maximum of 10mg/kg of thujone, beverages classed as “bitters” can contain as much as 35mg/kg, it’s not 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 simply legal to get or sell Absinthes with trace quantities of thujone.
High doses of thujone can be dangerous triggering convulsions nevertheless you will have to drink a great deal of Absinthe to consume that volume of thujone and it would be impossible to drink that amount, you’d be comatosed from alcohol before then!
It is said that Henri-Louis Pernod, who owned the first 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 added to Absinthe. These herbs specially 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 sometimes used as bitters in cocktails.
There are several brands of Absinthe or Absinthe substitutes that have been developed in the ban and so contain no Absinthe thujone or wormwood, however, many would claim 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 containing wormwood or Absinthe thujone.