The notorious European born liquor absinthe has a terrible reputation for being more of a drug than liquor. If asked, most people around the world will tell you about that same thing, “absinthe makes you see the green fairy, it’s a hallucinogen”, well I’m here to say no, it isn’t, and the story behind it all is really quite interesting.
It all started in France, like so many other things, Absinthe is a liquor made by filling huge cauldrons with pure gain alcohol and adding a variety of herbs and spices and letting it marinate for some length of time. What exactly goes in depends on the maker and the region but the two most famous ingredients by far are the star anise(that liquorish stuff) and wormwood. Wormwood has oil in it that contains a substance called thujone. This is the magical substance that supposedly makes you hallucinate. The strange thing about thujone is that it was discovered in the 1800’s but still isn’t entirely understood. Its supposedly chemically similar to a substance known as tetrahydrocannibinol, more commonly known as THC. THC just happens to be that stuff in marijuana that everyone gets so excited about and because they’re chemically similar its assumed that in your body thujone acts similar to THC.
Well now, that’s the science, its supposed to be like marijuana but marijuana doesn’t have nearly as bad of a name as absinthe, what could have happened?
Well it all started in France just around 1800, industrialization of the process to make absinthe was perfected but costs were high so it remained a drink of the elite. As availability grew absinthe became the drink of artists and intellectuals. Sometime not too much later absinthe began to be issued to French troops in the field to purify water and treat malaria and from there these soldiers brought a taste for the drink back further the spread of absinthe drinking. By the 1870’s absinthe was everywhere in France and with a wine crop failure absinthe took over as the most popular alcohol in France.
When the wineries recovered they were ready to take back as many customers as they could, using any means necessary. Wineries aligned themselves with the temperance movement and started a giant smear campaign attempting to defame absinthe as much as possible. Somehow they managed to change the public perception of the drink into more of a drug that is terrible for you and will make you do even worse things. By the onset of World War one absinthe was banned in most countries even France, the land of its birth. Not until the 90’s is absinthe legal in the U.S. and most places around the world.
Now even though all of this is public information absinthe still carries this stigma of drug like effects. The allowed thujone limit in the U.S. is 10mg/L which is almost none. This standard is roughly the same all over the world but there are absinthes, some legal to buy and some not, that claim thujone levels in excess of 250mg/L. Now I know we all want to know “ that’s all fine an dandy, but how much thujone do I need to feel it?”. Well there is no clear awnser, thujones effects aren’t exactly a sure thing so theres no real way to say how much one would need to be effected by it. One this is for sure though absinthe is starting to pick up in populatity and is even starting to be found in bars in the U.S., so the next time your out ask around and get yourself a glass and figure out how many drinks until you see the green fairy.
A very informative site on everything absinthe-
A very well made documentary on how absinthe is made-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qb_I5Bi7DVQ