Absinthe thujone is the chemical seen 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 the early 1900s in several countries across the world and thujone continues to be tightly regulated today, particularly in the United States (or states united).
Thujone was regarded as just like THC seen in cannabis and Absinthe was speculated to be psychoactive and have psychedelic effects creating hallucinations and insanity. Absinthe was favored by the Bohemian set in Montmartre in Paris and several artists and writers believed 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 say that Van Gogh’s madness was brought on by Absinthe and that he cut off his ear under its control alcoholplant. Absinthe was even held responsible for a man murdering his family, although he had ingested a great many other strong alcoholic drinks following the Absinthe.
Prohibition campaigners used news of the murder to campaign for the banning of Absinthe and charged France’s growing problems of alcoholism to the emerald liquor.
Is Absinthe Thujone Harmful?
Today’s research suggests that it was in fact the alcohol (ethanol) content of Absinthe that 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 taken when taking in Absinthe. Thujone is merely contained in minute quantities and should therefore cause no major side effects or health problems. The EU stipulates that alcoholic beverages 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 entirely clear which class Absinthe suits but a majority of brands of Absinthe have much less than 35mg with many being under 10mg/kg. In the US it is just legal to purchase or sell Absinthes with trace amounts of thujone.
High doses of thujone could be dangerous triggering convulsions but you would need to drink a substantial amount of Absinthe to consume that amount of thujone and it will 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, utilized 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 mainly responsible for La Louche, the clouding which occurs when water is included with Absinthe. These herbs particularly the aniseed and anise are accountable for the distinctive aniseed or licorice taste of Absinthe and wormwood is liable for the bitter flavor. Absinthe is usually used as bitters in cocktails.
There are several brands of Absinthe or Absinthe substitutes that were developed in the ban and therefore contain no Absinthe thujone or wormwood, but some would state that Absinthe just isn’t Absinthe without Absinthe thujone and the bitter taste of wormwood. If you want real Absinthe try to find brands that contain wormwood or Absinthe thujone.