Absinthe thujone is the chemical present in Absinthe’s vital ingredient, the plant referred to as Common Wormwood, or Artemisia Absinthium to give it its botanical name http://absinthekit.com/articles. The compound thujone was partly responsible for Absinthe being banned in early 1900s in many countries around the world and thujone is still tightly regulated today, specifically in the United States (or states united).
Thujone was regarded as just like THC present in cannabis and Absinthe was alleged to be psychoactive and possess psychedelic effects causing hallucinations and insanity. Absinthe was popular with the Bohemian set in Montmartre in Paris and many artists and writers believed that Absinthe, the Green Fairy, gave them inspiration in addition to 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 due to Absinthe and that he cut off his ear under its effect. Absinthe was even blamed for a man murdering his family, even though 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 dependency on the emerald liquor.
Is Absinthe Thujone Unsafe?
Today’s research suggests that it was actually the alcohol (ethanol) content of Absinthe that 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 taken when ingesting Absinthe. Thujone is simply present in minute quantities and ought to therefore cause no major side effects or health issues. The EU stipulates that booze with an ABV (alcohol by volume) level over 25% may possibly consist of a maximum of 10mg/kg of thujone, beverages classed as “bitters” can contain approximately 35mg/kg, it isn’t entirely clear which class Absinthe matches but many brands of Absinthe have much less than 35mg with a lot of being under 10mg/kg. In the US it is only legal to get or sell Absinthes with trace quantities of thujone.
High doses of thujone may be dangerous leading to convulsions however you would have to drink a substantial amount of Absinthe to consume that quantity of thujone and it would be impossible to drink that amount, you would be comatosed from alcohol until then!
It is known 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 make his famous Pernod Absinthe. The essential oil from all of 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 mainly responsible for the bitter flavor. Absinthe is oftentimes used as bitters in cocktails.
There are several brands of Absinthe or Absinthe substitutes that were developed during the ban and therefore contain no Absinthe thujone or wormwood, but some would say that Absinthe is not Absinthe without Absinthe thujone and the bitter taste of wormwood. If you wish real Absinthe look for brands that contain wormwood or Absinthe thujone.