Absinthe thujone is the chemical seen in Absinthe’s vital ingredient, the plant referred to as Common Wormwood, or Artemisia Absinthium to give it its botanical name https://absinthekit.com/articles. The chemical thujone was partly the cause of Absinthe being banned in early 1900s in many countries around the world and thujone remains 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 have psychedelic effects creating hallucinations and insanity. Absinthe was well-liked 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. Renowned 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 control. Absinthe was even blamed for a man murdering his family, despite the fact that he had used 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 Unsafe?
Today’s studies suggest that it was in fact 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 taking in Absinthe. Thujone is just contained in minute quantities and must therefore cause no major side effects or health problems. The EU stipulates that alcohol based drinks 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 approximately 35mg/kg, it isn’t totally clear which class Absinthe matches but many brands of Absinthe have much less than 35mg with many being under 10mg/kg. In the US it is simply legal to purchase or sell Absinthes with trace amounts of thujone.
High doses of thujone can be dangerous leading to convulsions but you would need to drink a substantial amount of Absinthe to consume that volume of thujone and it will be impossible to drink that amount, you’d be comatosed from alcohol before then!
It is said that Henri-Louis Pernod, who owned the very first Absinthe distillery, employed the herbs wormwood, aniseed, fennel, lemon balm, hyssop, angelica root, dittany, star anise, nutmeg, juniper and veronica to create his famous Pernod Absinthe. The essential oil from 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 accountable 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 many brands of Absinthe or Absinthe substitutes which were developed over the ban and therefore contain no Absinthe thujone or wormwood, but some would say that Absinthe is not Absinthe without Absinthe thujone and the bitter taste of wormwood. If you’d like real Absinthe try to find brands that contains wormwood or Absinthe thujone.