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 chemical thujone was partly accountable for Absinthe being banned during the early 1900s in lots of countries around the globe and thujone remains tightly regulated today, particularly in the United States (or states united).
Thujone was thought to be much like THC found in cannabis and Absinthe was purported to be psychoactive and possess psychedelic effects causing 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 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 due to Absinthe and that he cut off his ear under its influence alcohol plant. Absinthe was even blamed for a man murdering his family, although he had used many other strong alcoholic drinks right after the Absinthe.
Prohibition campaigners used news of the murder to campaign for the outlawing of Absinthe and charged France’s growing problems of alcohol addiction to the emerald liquor.
Is Absinthe Thujone Hazardous?
Today’s studies suggest that it was actually the alcohol (ethanol) content of Absinthe which was dangerous instead of the thujone. Absinthe is doubly strong as spirits like whisky and vodka and can be 75% alcohol. Care should therefore be used when ingesting Absinthe. Thujone is just found in minute quantities and must therefore cause no major negative effects or health conditions. 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 up to 35mg/kg, it is not entirely clear which class Absinthe matches but a majority of brands of Absinthe have much less than 35mg with many 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 could be dangerous causing convulsions however you will have to drink a great deal of Absinthe to consume that volume 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 all of these herbs is mainly responsible for La Louche, the clouding which comes about when water is added to Absinthe. These herbs particularly the aniseed and anise are responsible 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 lots of brands of Absinthe or Absinthe substitutes which were developed during the ban and therefore contain no Absinthe thujone or wormwood, but many would state that Absinthe is not Absinthe without Absinthe thujone and the bitter taste of wormwood. If you wish real Absinthe search for brands containing wormwood or Absinthe thujone.