Absinthe, a liqueur, is a combination of spirits and herbs, mainly fennel, anise, and a type of wormwood called Artemisia absinthium. That’s what it’s named after.
Van Gogh and Picasso were big fans of absinthe back in the day, along with other artists. Some believe that absinthe-induced hallucinations partly inspired some of their greatest works.
These hallucinations were thought to be an effect of thujone, a compound in the type of wormwood used in absinthe.
But the thing is, absinthe doesn’t actually cause hallucinations.
The green aperitif became legendary in late 19th-century Paris thanks to bohemian artists and writers who reported psychedelic, mind-altering effects.
It made their minds wander, which they equated with expanding their consciousness and inspiring creativity. This led to absinthe often being called the Green Muse or Green Fairy.
It wasn’t until the 1970s, after the rise of psychedelic drugs, that scientists finally started to seriously study thujone and its effects. By then, absinthe had already been banned in the United States and other countries for several decades.
Other purported effects
In addition to hallucinations, absinthe was also associated with a number of negative psychotropic effects, including mania and psychosis. These were thought to result in violent and erratic behavior.
Absinthe was even said to cause physical symptoms, such as facial contractions, numbness, and seizures.
People displaying absinthe-induced symptoms were said to have absinthism, a condition that’s since been debunked.
Pressure to ban the drink came from the medical community and politicians. The final nail in the coffin came after a criminal case that was dubbed the “absinthe murders.”
A Swiss peasant shot and killed his pregnant wife and two daughters. He was found passed out on top of one of their bodies in his front yard. He had no recollection of the murders.
Police zeroed in on his consumption of two glasses of absinthe before the murders. Even though he also consumed copious amounts of other alcoholic bevvies, absinthe was blamed, and Switzerland banned it in 1905. Over the next several years, other countries followed suit.
Lifting the ban
The United States eliminated the ban in 2007 with strict conditions on how much thujone absinthe can contain.
Turns out, the mind-altering effects of absinthe were probably just the result of really strong booze, according to a 2008 study.
As with any other potent alcoholic drink, you’re going to experience some strong effects when you drink too much of it. And based on various reports, people with absinthism were drinking a lot.
Many of the symptoms of so-called absinthism are the same ones you can expect if you drink too much of any alcoholic beverage. Though
rare, chronic, heavy alcohol use can lead to hallucinations. And both acute and chronic alcohol use, as well as alcohol withdrawal, have been linkedto psychosis.
As for some of the world’s most significant and innovative artists believing that absinthe gave them a creative edge? They were likely referring to the effects of early stage intoxication, which includes feelings of:
Yes and no. Modern absinthe is supposed to contain less thujone than the pre-ban stuff. But a study of pre-ban bottles found thujone levels weren’t that different from what you find today.
In the United States, distilled spirits marketed as absinthe must be thujone-free by FDA standards. That’s defined as containing less than 10 parts per million of thujone.
In addition, some modern versions contain less alcohol than pre-ban versions.
Back in the days of absinthe madness and murders, the drink contained around 70 percent alcohol, which is 140 proof.
Today, it’s not actually that different. Currently, most absinthe sold in the United States contains anywhere from 40 to 75 percent alcohol, depending on the brand.
Despite what you might’ve heard, absinthe doesn’t actually cause hallucinations.
If you were considering your own rendezvous with the Green Fairy in hopes of becoming a modern Oscar Wilde, save yourself a few bucks and opt for just about any other high-proof drink.