Absinthe: Fact vs Fiction
By 2007 Absinth was once again being sold in the United States. After nearly a century of being banned by many countries in the world it’s been making a comeback. Now absinthe is once again readily available in the U.S. and Europe, but many of the misconceptions of absinthe still persist compounded by the many different varieties.
The great myth of absinthe is that if its authentic absinthe it has hallucinogenic or psychotropic properties. This is the myth that got absinthe banned in so many countries around the world. The belief is that thujone, a chemical found in Artemisia absinthium also known as wormwood, one of absinthe’s key ingredients, is psychoactive. The truth is thujone is found in many different herbs and spices and is very common, it is also toxic in high enough doses causing seizures, convulsions or fatality in large amounts. Much of this thujone is lost during the distillation process and absinthe is more likely to cause alcohol poisoning before the effects of thujone would be felt.
So if authentic absinthe is not an hallucinogen, why would it be banned in so many countries for so long? By the mid 1800’s a parasite was ravaging the French wine industry and between the 1840’s and 1880’s absinthe was the alcoholic beverage of choice for the people of France. After the wine industry recovered they were determined to win back their customers. After teaming up with prohibitionists of the temperance movement absinthe was demonized as a mind altering, hallucinogenic, addictive substance which caused madness.
Absinthe is very strong alcohol, most of it being bottled around 70% ABV so you know some people are getting very hammered off of this drink. The strenght of absinth as an alcohol certainly helped push the perception that it would cause madness. So in 1905 when Jean Lanfray tragically killed his pregnant wife and two children after a day of heavy drinking which included wine, hard liquor and about two ounces of absinthe, it was determined that absinthe was solely to blame for this horrific crime. By this time absinthe had been so vilified for so long that this was a breaking point which lead Switzerland to ban the drink, causing a chain reaction with other countries banning the drink.
This longstanding ban on authentic absinthe caused the myth to spread that it really was hallucinogenic or psychotropic. This misconception has been exploited by many people selling brightly colored liquor advertising high levels of thujone added as “absinthe”. Many of these bottles being sold in Europe to American tourists who don’t know any better. Real absinthe has no food coloring or thujone added, if the color doesn’t look like something natural and it advertises high levels of thujone put the bottle down and back away because its fake.