These are some of the most relevant scientific documents relating to the study of absinthe. They range from the earliest papers written by absinthe's polemicists, such as Dr. Valentin Magnan, right up to the modern work of Dr. Dirk Lachenmeier and others.
It should be noted that some of the older papers contain mistaken calculations and erroneous conclusions, sometimes based on the findings of still earlier erroneous work. Most of these errors have been detailed and documented in the later pieces.
"During our research on absinthe, we discovered that there is a general misunderstanding amongst the public, as well as in the scientific community, about the properties of absinthe in general, and the thujone content in particular. It is remarkable that, even in peer-reviewed journals, unsubstantiated myths and legends are continually repeated."
Absinthe, a bitter spirit containing wormwood (Artemisia absinthium L.), was banned at the beginning of the 20th century as consequence of its supposed unique adverse effects. After nearly centurylong prohibition, absinthe has seen a resurgence after recent de-restriction in many European countries. This review provides information on the history of absinthe and one of its constituent, thujone. Medical and toxicological aspects experienced and discovered before the prohibition of absinthe are discussed in detail, along with their impact on the current situation. The only consistent conclusion that can be drawn from those 19th century studies about absinthism is that wormwood oil but not absinthe is a potent agent to cause seizures. Neither can it be concluded that the beverage itself was epileptogenic nor that the so-called absinthism can exactly be distinguished as a distinct syndrome from chronic alcoholism.
Pursuant to CFR 21 172.510, the Federal Food and Drug Administration requires that foods and beverages offered for sale for human consumption in the United States be thujone free "as determined by using the method (or, in other than alcoholic beverages, a suitable adaptation thereof) in section 9.129 of the "Official Methods of Analysis of the Association of Official Analytical Chemists," 13thEd. (1980)." Below is the complete text of that section.
Read the TTB statement on the actual thujone screening method used by the TTB laboratory.
Absinthe has always had an ambivalent history, on one hand it was praised as âThe Green Museâ by its devotees, and on the other it was condemned by it detractors as a cause of madness and moral degeneracy. But is there any scientific or medical basis for either position?
Evidence for mind-altering effects is largely anecdotal and the frequently quoted first-hand descriptions of its mind-altering effects have come from artists and poets who may be expected to describe events in a fanciful manner. Imbibers of alcohol have always described their favourite tipple in extravagant terms, whether it be Burns on whisky or Yeats on wine. The case for its harmful effect is largely based on research on laboratory animals conducted at the behest of the prohibitionist lobby and assumptions drawn from examinations of mental patients in the late 19th century.
Scientific American. New Series, Volume 20, Issue 14, Apr 3, 1869
It appears that until 1864 the belief that there was nothing injurious in absinthe except the alcohol, was general enough. In that year, however, a mad doctor named Marce, communicated a paper to the Academy of Sciences, in which he demonstrated that the essence of wormwood was contained in the liquor called absinthe, in the proportion of twenty grammes of essence to 100 liters of alcohol, and argued that this essence had a peculiarly injurious effect on the brain.
In 1867 a petition was presented to the Senate, praying that the sale of absinthe might be absolutely forbidden. Nothing came of it; and now the question of absinthe has been once more brought forward by two physicians, MM. Magnan and Bouchereau, who, for the first time, have made regular scientific experiments with the questionable stuff. The object of the experimentalists was to show what the effect of pure alcohol would be on a guinea-pig, and what the effect of absinthe.
With this view, they placed a guinea-pig under a glass case, with a saucer full of essence of wormwood by his side, another guinea-pig being placed under another glass case with a saucer full of alcohol. The guinea-pig, who, so to say, was being treated with absinthe, sniffed at the fumes, and for a few moments seemed, like the ordinary absinthe drinker, supremely happy. Gradually, however, be became heavy and dull, and at last fell on his side, agitating his limbs convulsively, foaming at the mouth, and presenting all the signs of epilepsy. The same epileptic symptoms were manifested on the part of a cat and rabbit, who, in a similar manner, were made to inhale the fumes of absinthe.
College of Pharmacy, University of Kentucky. Lexington, Kentucky 40506
(U.S.A.) / (Received May 12,1980; accepted February 28, 1981)
The 1850s and 1860s in France have been described as a "gilded age". "It was a parvenu period: get rich quick, show off, enjoy. Gamblers, profiteers, and demimondaines held the center of the stage.... It was then that La Vie Parisienney as a play, as a magazine, and as a mode of life, became a byword for meretricious gaiety" (Guerard, 1959; Richardson, 1971).
During the period, a liqueurâ absinthe â became identified with the Bohemian spirit that prevailed. On the boulevards, between five and six o'clock â the hour of absinthe â Parisians from all walks of life gathered to sit outside the cafes and drink their customary glasses of this green, anise-flavored liqueur.
Published in Scientific American.
Evidence of the pale-green liqueur's toxicity eventually extinguished the fin-de-siècle infatuation with absinthe. The drink's history began, however, long before the 19th century.
Vincent van Gogh shot himself on the afternoon of July 27, 1890, in Auvers-sur-Oise, France; he died in the early morning two days later. Paul F. Gachet, the doctor who attended van Gogh during the last two months of his life, planted a thuja tree on the artistâ's grave. The gesture was probably inspired by van Gogh's admiration of thuja trees and his inclusion of their flamelike images in some of his Auvers paintings.
Published in The American Journal of Psychiatry, April 2002
Vincent van Gogh (1853â1890) had an eccentric personality and unstable moods, suffered from recurrent psychotic episodes during the last 2 years of his extraordinary life, and committed suicide at the age of 37. Despite limited evidence, well over 150 physicians have ventured a perplexing variety of diagnoses of his illness. Henri Gastaut, in a study of the artistâs life and medical history published in 1956, identified van Goghâs major illness during the last 2 years of his life as temporal lobe epilepsy precipitated by the use of absinthe in the presence of an early limbic lesion. In essence, Gastaut confirmed the diagnosis originally made by the French physicians who had treated van Gogh. However, van Gogh had earlier suffered two distinct episodes of reactive depression, and there are clearly bipolar aspects to his history. Both episodes of depression were followed by sustained periods of increasingly high energy and enthusiasm, first as an evangelist and then as an artist. The highlights of van Goghâs life and letters are reviewed and discussed in an effort toward better understanding of the complexity of his illness.
Objective: The aim of this study was to determine whether the impacts of absinthe on attention performance and mood were different from those experienced with beverages that contain only alcohol. The ingredient causing absinthe's toxicity is believed to be thujone.
Method: A total of 25 healthy subjects participated in the study. An attention performance test and two questionnaires testing different mood dimensions were used. Three drinks with an identical amount of alcohol but with different amounts of thujone were offered.
A Classic Cocktail
Popular Science Articles
- The Taxonomy of "Wormwoods" and related Artemisia Species
- The Life of an Anise-Flavored Alcoholic Beverage
- α-Thujone: γ-Aminobutyric acid type A receptor modulation
- AOAC Official Thujone Detection Method
- Absinthe - W. Arnold, Scientific American
- Systematic Misinformation about Thujone in Pre-ban Absinthe
- General misconceptions about the wormwood-flavoured spirit absinthe