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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.

ABSINTHE - American Journal of Pharmacy, 1868

soldiers drinking absintheThe indulgence in absinthe, which already prevails to a great extent among all classes of Frenchmen, threatens to become as wide-spread in France and as injurious there as opium eating in China. If a visitor to Paris strolls along the boulevards from the Madeleine to the Bastille some summer's afternoon, between five and six o'clock — which is commonly called " the hour of absinthe " — he can hardly fail to remark hundreds of Parisians seated outside the various cafes or lounging at the counters of the wine shops and imbibing this insidious stimulant.

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The Effects of Absinthe

By Emma E. Walker, M.D., New York
MEDICAL RECORD, VOLUME 70, Oct. 13, 1906

"France as a nation has become so roused to the danger of alcohol and the essences, especially absinthe, which are in such common use in that country, that on December 29, 1900, the French government requested the Academy of Medicine to determine the comparative toxicity of the various alcoholic beverages in use with a view to proscribing the ones most dangerous to health. After an investigation it was suggested by one of the committee that absinthe alone be put into the forbidden list."

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Vincent van Gogh and the Thujone Connection

During his last two years Vincent van Gogh experienced fits with hallucinations that have been attributed to a congenital psychosis. But the artist admitted to episodes of heavy drinking that were amply confirmed by colleagues and there is good evidence to indicate that addiction to absinthe exacerbated his illness.

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The Taxonomy of "Wormwoods" and related Artemisia Species

Here is a partial list of the many species, subspecies and varieties in the genus Artemisia, which will illustrate just how large the genus is, and how many of the plants are known as "wormwoods".  Only one however, Artemisia absinthium, is the plant which qualifies a spirit to be the drink we know as absinthe.  Several other species are traditionally used in absinthe in addition to A. absinthium, most notably A. pontica.  Species historically known to be used in absinthe in the pre-ban era (i.e. before 1915) are highlighted.


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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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