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Gwydion Stone

Thujone—Cause of absinthism?

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Thujone—Cause of absinthism?

 

Dirk W. Lachenmeier, J. Emmert, T. Kuballa and G. Sartor,

 

Chemisches und Veterinäruntersuchungsamt (CVUA) Karlsruhe, Weißenburger Str. 3, D-76187 Karlsruhe, Germany

Fluka Production GmbH, Industriestr. 25, CH-9471 Buchs, Switzerland

 

Received 22 March 2005; revised 12 April 2005; accepted 14 April 2005. Available online 17 May 2005.

 

 

 

Abstract

 

Habitual abuse of the wormwood spirit absinthe was described in the 19th and 20th centuries as a cause for the mental disorder “absinthism” including the symptoms hallucinations, sleeplessness and convulsions. A controversial discussion is going on if thujone, a characteristic component of the essential oil of the wormwood plant Artemisia absinthium L., is responsible for absinthism, or if it was merely caused by chronic alcohol intoxication or by other reasons such as food adulterations.

 

To ascertain if thujone may have caused absinthism, absinthes were produced according to historic recipes of the 19th century. Commercial wormwood herbs of two different manufacturers, as well as self-cultivated ones, were used in a concentration of 6 kg/100 l spirit. In addition, an authentic vintage Pernod absinthe from Tarragona (1930), and two absinthes from traditional small distilleries of the Swiss Val-de-Travers were evaluated. A GC–MS procedure was applied for the analysis of ?- and ?-thujone with cyclodecanone as internal standard. The method was shown to be sensitive with a LOD of 0.08 mg/l. The precision was between 1.6 and 2.3%, linearity was obtained from 0.1 to 40 mg/l (r = 1.000).

 

After the recent annulment of the absinthe prohibition all analysed products showed a thujone concentration below the maximum limit of 35 mg/l, including the absinthes produced according to historic recipes, which did not contain any detectable or only relatively low concentrations of thujone (mean: 1.3 ± 1.6 mg/l, range: 0–4.3 mg/l). Interestingly, the vintage absinthe also showed a relatively low thujone concentration of 1.8 mg/l. The Val-de-Travers absinthes contained 9.4 and 1.7 mg/l of thujone.

 

In conclusion, thujone concentrations as high as 260 mg/l, reported in the 19th century, cannot be confirmed by our study. With regard to their thujone concentrations, the hallucinogenic potential of vintage absinthes can be assessed being rather low because the historic products also comply with today's maximum limits derived to exclude such effects. It may be deduced that thujone plays none, or only a minor role in the clinical picture of absinthism.

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And again we see that we should be looking at the clinical picture of alcoholism and not what’s in the alcohol.

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My favorite part:

 

"To ascertain if thujone may have caused absinthism, absinthes were produced according to historic recipes of the 19th century. Commercial wormwood herbs of two different manufacturers, as well as self-cultivated ones, were used in a concentration of 6 kg/100 l spirit. In addition, an authentic vintage Pernod absinthe from Tarragona (1930), and two absinthes from traditional small distilleries of the Swiss Val-de-Travers were evaluated. "

 

This is the first study I've seen that actually looked at the right stuff.

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a cause for the mental disorder “absinthism” including the symptoms hallucinations, sleeplessness and convulsions."

 

Heck, I had those before my first taste of absinthe. I only started drinking it to give an excuse to my behavoir.

 

It may be deduced that thujone plays none, or only a minor role in the clinical picture of absinthism.

 

It's nice to see properly conducted, peer reviewed science published on absinthe.

 

Now to convince FDA....

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A quick discussion of issue can be found in this thread.

 

Potentially, a petition for correction of information disseminated by FDA, i.e., the determination that alcoholic beverage cannot contain thujone, could be filed under Section 515 of Public Law 106-554. A related alternative would be a similar petition to have AA declared GRAS as a food additive. This may be a little more problematic as a Section 515 petition since there is a separate GRAS process I should check into.

 

The law in question gives the affected persons the right to seek and obtain correction of most information disseminated by the government that does not meet information quality standards. The standards are broadly set by OMB and then implemented by each agency.

 

An alternative approach would be to try and fit thuojone into the international standards harmonization program. I don't think anyone here would be too upset if US accepted EU thujone limits for absinthe and bitters.

 

If AA were declared GRAS or thujone limits for alcoholic beverages were harmonized, that would set the stage for importing absinthe/bitters into the US. (Importation of spirits has its own complex and expensive regulatory process.)

 

An additional issue would be if anyone were interested in establishing a micro-distillary. It is legally possible, but not easy, to establish a micro-distillery in the US. Tito's Handmade Vodka from Texas is one example. The following article provides some basic information about the legal process.

 

Overall, it should eventually be possible to craft produce absinthe in the US but it will not be easy.

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