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Science Documents on Absinthe Science Articles

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.

Screening of Distilled Spirits for Thujone by Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry

Thujone is a monoterpenoid ketone consisting of two isomers, alpha and beta, that exist in varying ratios in different plants.  Plants such as cedar leaf, sage, tansy, thyme, rosemary and wormwood (an ingredient found in certain flavored distilled spirits such as absinthe) are known to contain thujone.  According to the FDA, alcoholic beverages must be thujone-free pursuant to 21 CFR 172.510.  TTB has developed a gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GCMS) screening method that may be used to quantitate total thujone (alpha + beta) in distilled spirits.

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Behaviour of thujone during distillation

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

A discrepancy in the magnitude of thujone concentrations in distilled pre-ban absinthe has existed until now. Concentrations of 260 mg L-1 were derived at by theoretical calculations. Tests of authentic pre-ban absinthes and studies concerning absinthes produced according to historic recipes found concentrations below 10 mg L-1. In this study, the behaviour of thujone during distillation was studied and a significant discrimination was determined (80% yield in water-cum-steam distillation). The thujone concentrations in distilled pre-ban absinthe were then calculated with regard to the composition of wormwood derived from a literature review. Due to the large deviations of oil content and thujone concentration of wormwood, a typical Absinthe Suisse de Pontarlier from Duplais' 1855 recipe might have contained between zero and a maximum of 76 mg L-1 of thujone, the average was calculated as 23 mg L-1 with a standard deviation of 21 mg L-1. It was proven that the previous calculations overestimated the thujone content of distilled absinthe and the discrepancy was resolved as our new calculations are in good accord with the experimental findings.

Copyright © 2007 Society of Chemical Industry

Received: 24 July 2006; Revised: 4 January 2007; Accepted: 12 March 2007

The full article may be purchased from Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture .

α-Thujone: γ-Aminobutyric acid type A receptor modulation

Karin M. Höld, et al.

"α-Thujone is the toxic agent in absinthe, a liqueur popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries that has adverse health effects. It is also the active ingredient of wormwood oil and some other herbal medicines and is reported to have antinociceptive, insecticidal, and anthelmintic activity.  This study elucidates the mechanism of α-thujone neurotoxicity and identifies its major metabolites and their role in the poisoning process."

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Absinthe and γ-aminobutyric acid receptors

Absinthe is an emerald-green liqueur that achieved fantastic popularity at the close of the 19th century. It was associated with the Bohemian lifestyle and was credited with the inspiration of famous artists and poets. Because of its widespread abuse and the associated toxicity of its content of oil of wormwood, absinthe was made illegal in most countries in the 1910s. The most likely ingredient responsible for toxicity is believed to be the terpenoid a-thujone.

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EUROPEAN COMMISSION - Opinion of the Scientific Committee on Food on Thujone

The Committee is asked to advise the Commission on substances used as flavouring substances or present in flavourings or present in other food ingredients with flavouring properties for which existing toxicological data indicate that restrictions of use or presence might be necessary to ensure safety for human health.

In particular the Committee is asked to advise the Commission on the implications for human health of thujone in the diet.

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General misconceptions about the wormwood-flavoured spirit absinthe

"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."

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Absinthism: fictitious 19th century syndrome


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.


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AOAC Official Thujone Detection Method

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. 

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Myth, Reality and Absinthe - The Truth about Thujone

Absinthe has always had an ambivalent history, on one hand it was praised as ‘The Green Muse’ 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.

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