Still Life with Absinthe by Van Gogh 1887

What Is Absinthe?

Van Gogh loved it and painted it. Hemingway and Poe wrote about it.

Absinthe is an emerald green beverage that contains alcohol and herbal extracts; hence its moniker “the green fairy.” Absinthe derives its name from Artemisia Absinthium, one of the herbs used in the drink. Absinthium, or wormwood, contains a substance known as thujone, which among other things has purported hallucinogenic properties. Absinthe has a high percentage of alcohol, and it has an anise, or licorice, taste. It was developed in Europe in the nineteenth century. During that time, Absinthe became so popular — with the popular assumption that is was also addictive, although there are no standards to prove this — that many countries, including the United States, banned it in the early twentieth century. This ban came about because it was speculated that absinthium caused seizures and hallucinations with resulting addiction and delirium.

What Is the Big Deal?

In the nineteenth century, absinthe was reputed to:

  • induce trances
  • act as an aphrodisiac
  • cause hallucinations
  • produce sensations of “other worldliness.”

Today, some eastern European absinthe marketeers still claim absinthe has similar properties. Is this true? No. What is true is that absinthe produced in eastern Europe has higher levels of thujone, which probably contributes to the marketeers making claims about it producing the effects as listed in the list above. Other brands of absinthe produced throughout the world contain varying amounts of absinthe.

Some drinkers of absinthe claim it produces a feeling of drunken clear-headedness. This clarity is probably due to the stimulant effects of some of the other herbal remedies placed into the cocktail, but not due to the thujone.

How Does Absinthe Work in the Body?

This is such a high percentage of alcohol (sometimes 70% pure alcohol) in absinthe  that it works like a really strong liquor; however there are two myths about absinthe:

Myth #1: Absinthe’s herbal infusion of absinthium (and other herbs) moderates the effect of high alcohol and imparts a clarity to the user.

Myth #2: Absinthium, containing the drug thujone, is psychoactive.

In actuality, recent studies have shown that thujone has absolutely no addictive or psychotropic properties (Lachenmeier, Fortschritte der Neurologie-Psychiatrie, 2007 May 75:5 306-08) However, many governmental agencies regulate what percentage of thujone is contained in absinthe. In spite of this, many governmental agencies (Unites States, Canada and Australia) regulate what percentage of thujone is permissible in legal absinthe sales.

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Managing Partner at Shaun Kaufman Law
Shaun Kaufman has 30 years of in-court experience, with hundreds of hours spent defending numerous high-profile cases including homicide, white-collar theft and RICO offenses. Specialties: Criminal defense, personal injury, business litigation, DUI.

Shaun Kaufman Law: 303-309-0430
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