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. The substance thujone was partly accountable for Absinthe being banned in the early 1900s in lots of countries across the world and thujone remains tightly regulated today http://absinthesupreme.com, especially in the United States (or states united).
Thujone was thought to be similar to THC present in cannabis and Absinthe was speculated to be psychoactive and have psychedelic effects triggering hallucinations and insanity. Absinthe was well-liked by 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. Famous Absinthe drinkers include Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Degas, Baudelaire and Verlaine. Some claim that Van Gogh’s madness was due to Absinthe and that he cut off his ear under its effect . Absinthe was even blamed for a man murdering his family, even though 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 blamed France’s growing problems of alcoholism on the emerald liquor.
Is Absinthe Thujone Dangerous?
Today’s studies suggest that it was in fact the alcohol (ethanol) content of Absinthe that was dangerous rather than the thujone. Absinthe is twice as strong as spirits like whisky and vodka and can be 75% alcohol. Care should therefore be taken when ingesting Absinthe. Thujone is just present in minute quantities and should therefore cause no major negative effects or health conditions. The EU stipulates that booze 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 up to 35mg/kg, it isn’t entirely clear which class Absinthe suits but many brands of Absinthe have much less than 35mg with many being under 10mg/kg. In the US it is just legal to buy or sell Absinthes with trace quantities of thujone.
High doses of thujone can be dangerous causing convulsions however you would need 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 until 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 produce his famous Pernod Absinthe. The essential oil from all of these herbs is responsible for La Louche, the clouding which happens when water is included with 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 which were developed during the ban and so contain no Absinthe thujone or wormwood, but many would claim that Absinthe is not Absinthe without Absinthe thujone and the bitter taste of wormwood. If you’d like real Absinthe look for brands containing wormwood or Absinthe thujone.