Absinthe thujone is the chemical present in Absinthe’s vital ingredient, the plant called Common Wormwood, or Artemisia Absinthium to give it its botanical name. The substance thujone was partly responsible for Absinthe being banned in early 1900s in many countries across the globe and thujone remains tightly regulated today, specifically in the United States (or states united).
Thujone was considered to be much like THC present in cannabis and Absinthe was alleged to be psychoactive and have psychedelic effects causing hallucinations and insanity. Absinthe was favored by the Bohemian set in Montmartre in Paris and many artists and writers claimed that Absinthe, the Green Fairy, gave them inspiration and 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 influence alcoholplant.com. Absinthe was even held accountable for a man murdering his family, although he had taken many other strong alcoholic drinks right 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 addiction on the emerald liquor.
Is Absinthe Thujone Hazardous?
Today’s studies suggest that it was actually the alcohol (ethanol) content of Absinthe which 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 utilized when ingesting Absinthe. Thujone is just found in minute quantities and must therefore cause no major unwanted effects or health problems. The EU stipulates that alcoholic beverages 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 is not totally clear which class Absinthe fits into 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 levels of thujone.
High doses of thujone can be dangerous triggering convulsions however you would have to drink a great deal of Absinthe to consume that volume of thujone and it will be impossible to drink that amount, you would be comatosed from alcohol before then!
It is said that Henri-Louis Pernod, who owned the initial Absinthe distillery, employed 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 these herbs is mainly responsible for La Louche, the clouding which comes about when water is put into Absinthe. These herbs especially 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 many brands of Absinthe or Absinthe substitutes that were developed during the ban and so contain no Absinthe thujone or wormwood, however, many would say that Absinthe is not Absinthe without Absinthe thujone and the bitter taste of wormwood. If you want real Absinthe search for brands that contain wormwood or Absinthe thujone.