Absinthe thujone is the chemical found in Absinthe’s vital ingredient, the plant called Common Wormwood, or Artemisia Absinthium to give it its botanical name absinthekit. The chemical thujone was partly the cause of Absinthe being banned during the early 1900s in lots of countries around the world and thujone is still tightly regulated today, particularly in the United States (or states united).
Thujone was regarded as much like THC seen in cannabis and Absinthe was alleged 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 and their genius. Well-known Absinthe drinkers include Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Degas, Baudelaire and Verlaine. Some claim that Van Gogh’s madness was caused by Absinthe and that he cut off his ear under its influence. Absinthe was even held accountable for a man murdering his family, despite the fact that he had consumed a great many 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 on the emerald liquor.
Is Absinthe Thujone Dangerous?
Today’s research suggests that it was actually the alcohol (ethanol) content of Absinthe that 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 utilized when taking in Absinthe. Thujone is just found in minute quantities and ought to therefore cause no major side 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 isn’t entirely clear which class Absinthe suits 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 simply legal to get or sell Absinthes with trace amounts of thujone.
High doses of thujone may be dangerous triggering convulsions but you will have to drink a great deal of Absinthe to consume that amount 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 very first Absinthe distillery, used 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 responsible for La Louche, the clouding which happens when water is added to 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 oftentimes used as bitters in cocktails.
There are lots of brands of Absinthe or Absinthe substitutes which were developed over the ban and thus contain no Absinthe thujone or wormwood, but some 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.