Absinthe thujone is the chemical found 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 early 1900s in many countries around the world and thujone remains tightly regulated today, 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 possess psychedelic effects creating 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 in addition to 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 brought on by Absinthe and that he cut off his ear under its control alcohol plant. Absinthe was even blamed for a man murdering his family, even though he had consumed a number of other strong alcoholic drinks after the Absinthe.
Prohibition campaigners used news of the murder to campaign for the suspending of Absinthe and charged France’s growing problems of alcohol dependency to the emerald liquor.
Is Absinthe Thujone Unsafe?
Today’s studies suggest that it was actually the alcohol (ethanol) content of Absinthe that’s 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 utilized when consuming Absinthe. Thujone is just present in minute quantities and ought to therefore cause no major negative effects or health issues. 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 as much as 35mg/kg, it’s not completely clear which class Absinthe fits into but a majority of brands of Absinthe have much less than 35mg with a lot of being under 10mg/kg. In the US it is only legal to get or sell Absinthes with trace levels of thujone.
High doses of thujone may be dangerous leading to convulsions however you would have to drink a great deal of Absinthe to consume that quantity of thujone and it might be impossible to drink that amount, you would be comatosed from alcohol before then!
It is known that Henri-Louis Pernod, who owned the first Absinthe distillery, employed 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 these herbs is responsible for La Louche, the clouding which occurs when water is put into 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 several brands of Absinthe or Absinthe substitutes that were developed during the ban and thus contain no Absinthe thujone or wormwood, but many would state that Absinthe isn’t Absinthe without Absinthe thujone and the bitter taste of wormwood. If you wish real Absinthe look for brands that contains wormwood or Absinthe thujone.