Addictive Potential: Medium
Emergency Room Visits Yearly: Unkown
Mandatory Minimum Sentence: Unknown
Mechanism of Action: GABA antagonist
Absinthe is historically described as a distilled, highly alcoholic (45%-74% ABV) beverage. It is an anise-flavored spirit derived from herbs, including the flowers and leaves of the herb Artemisia absinthium, commonly referred to as “grande wormwood”. Absinthe traditionally has a natural green color but can also be colorless. It is commonly referred to in historical literature as “la fée verte” (the Green Fairy).
Although it is sometimes mistakenly called a liqueur, absinthe was not bottled with added sugar and is therefore classified as a spirit. Absinthe is unusual among spirits in that it is bottled at a very high proof but is normally diluted with water when drunk.
Absinthe originated in the canton of Neuchâtel in Switzerland. It achieved great popularity as an alcoholic drink in late 19th- and early 20th-century France, particularly among Parisian artists and writers. Due in part to its association with bohemian culture, absinthe was opposed by social conservatives and prohibitionists. Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Vincent van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, and Aleister Crowley were all notorious ‘bad men’ of that day who were (or were thought to be) devotees of the Green Fairy.
Absinthe was portrayed as a dangerously addictive psychoactive drug. The chemical thujone, present in small quantities, was singled out and blamed for its alleged harmful effects. By 1915, absinthe had been banned in the United States and in most European countries except the United Kingdom, Sweden, Spain, Portugal, Denmark and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Although absinthe was vilified, no evidence has shown it to be any more dangerous than ordinary spirit. Its psychoactive properties, apart from those of alcohol, have been much exaggerated.
A revival of absinthe began in the 1990s, when countries in the European Union began to reauthorize its manufacture and sale. As of February 2008, nearly 200 brands of absinthe were being produced in a dozen countries, most notably in France, Switzerland, Spain, and the Czech Republic. Commercial distillation of absinthe in the United States resumed in 2007.
Absinthe has been frequently and incorrectly described in modern times as being hallucinogenic. In the 1970s, a scientific paper mistakenly reported thujone was related to THC, the active chemical in cannabis. Martin Paul Smith incorrectly argued that absinthe had narcotic effects due to the fermentation process in early 2008. Ten years after his 19th century experiments with wormwood oil, the French Dr. Magnan studied 250 cases of alcoholism and claimed that those who drank absinthe were worse off than those drinking ordinary alcohol, and that they experienced rapid-onset hallucinations. Such accounts by absinthe opponents were embraced by its most famous users, many of whom were bohemian artists or writers.Two famous painters who helped popularize the notion that absinthe had powerful psychoactive properties were Toulouse Lautrec and Vincent van Gogh, the latter having suffered from mental instability throughout his life. In one of the best known accounts of absinthe drinking, Oscar Wilde described the feeling of having tulips on his legs after leaving a bar.
Today it is known that absinthe does not cause hallucinations. Thujone, the active chemical in absinthe, occurs naturally in two forms (−)-α-thujone and (+)-β-thujone. The thujones are GABA antagonists; and while they can produce muscle spasms in large doses, there is no evidence that they cause hallucinations. It has been speculated that reports of hallucinogenic effects of absinthe may have been due to chemicals being added to cheaper versions of the drink in the 19th century, to give it a more vivid color.
However, the debate over whether absinthe produces effects on the human mind additional to those of alcohol has not been conclusively resolved. The effects of absinthe have been described by some as mind opening. The most commonly reported experience is a ‘clear-headed’ feeling of inebriation — a form of ‘lucid drunkenness’. Chemist, historian, and absinthe distiller Ted Breaux has claimed that the alleged secondary effects of absinthe may be caused by the fact that some of the herbal compounds in the drink act as stimulants, while others act as sedatives, creating an overall lucid effect of awakening.
Side Effects and Adverse Reactions:
Long term effects of low absinthe consumption in humans remain unknown.