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 www.absinthekit.com/articles. The substance thujone was partly responsible for Absinthe being banned in the early 1900s in several countries across the world and thujone continues to be tightly regulated today, especially in the United States (or states united).
Thujone was considered to be just like THC present in cannabis and Absinthe was speculated to be psychoactive and have psychedelic effects producing 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 as well as their genius. Renowned 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 control. Absinthe was even blamed for a man murdering his family, despite the fact that he had used many other strong alcoholic drinks after the Absinthe.
Prohibition campaigners used news of the murder to campaign for the banning of Absinthe and blamed France’s growing problems of alcohol addiction on the emerald liquor.
Is Absinthe Thujone Hazardous?
Today’s research suggests 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 taking in Absinthe. Thujone is only found in minute quantities and should therefore cause no major unwanted effects or health conditions. The EU stipulates that alcohol based drinks with an ABV (alcohol by volume) level over 25% may possibly have a maximum of 10mg/kg of thujone, beverages classed as “bitters” can contain as much as 35mg/kg, it’s not entirely clear which class Absinthe suits but many brands of Absinthe have much less than 35mg with a lot of being under 10mg/kg. In the US it is simply legal to buy or sell Absinthes with trace amounts of thujone.
High doses of thujone can be dangerous leading to convulsions however you will have to drink a substantial amount of Absinthe to consume that quantity of thujone and it might be impossible to drink that amount, you would be comatosed from alcohol until then!
It is said that Henri-Louis Pernod, who owned the initial Absinthe distillery, used 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 happens when water is included with Absinthe. These herbs specially 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 sometimes used as bitters in cocktails.
There are several brands of Absinthe or Absinthe substitutes that have been developed in 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 containing wormwood or Absinthe thujone.