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Absinthism: A fictitious 19th century syndrome with present impact

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Absinthe, a bitter spirit containing wormwood (Artemisia absinthium L.), was banned at the beginning of the 20th century as consequence of its supposed unique adverse effects. After nearly century-long prohibition, absinthe has seen a resurgence after recent de-restriction in many European countries. This review provides information on the history of absinthe and one of its constituent, thujone. Medical and toxicological aspects experienced and discovered before the prohibition of absinthe are discussed in detail, along with their impact on the current situation. The only consistent conclusion that can be drawn from those 19th century studies about absinthism is that wormwood oil but not absinthe is a potent agent to cause seizures. Neither can it be concluded that the beverage itself was epileptogenic nor that the so-called absinthism can exactly be distinguished as a distinct syndrome from chronic alcoholism. The theory of a previous gross overestimation of the thujone content of absinthe may have been verified by a number of independent studies. Based on the current available evidence, thujone concentrations of both pre-ban and modern absinthes may not have been able to cause detrimental health effects other than those encountered in common alcoholism. Today, a questionable tendency of absinthe manufacturers can be ascertained that use the ancient theories of absinthism as a targeted marketing strategy to bring absinthe into the spheres of a legal drug-of-abuse. Misleading advertisements of aphrodisiac or psychotropic effects of absinthe try to re-establish absinthe's former reputation. In distinction from commercially manufactured absinthes with limited thujone content, a health risk to consumers is the uncontrolled trade of potentially unsafe herbal products such as absinthe essences that are readily available over the internet.
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BioMed Central
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Substance Abuse Treatment,
Prevention, and Policy
Open Access
Absinthism: a fictitious 19th century syndrome with present impact
Stephan A Padosch†1, Dirk W Lachenmeier*†2 and Lars U Kröner†3
Address: 1Universitätsklinikum Heidelberg, Klinik für Anästhesiologie, Im Neuenheimer Feld 110, D-69120 Heidelberg, Germany, 2Chemisches
und Veterinäruntersuchungsamt (CVUA) Karlsruhe, Weißenburger Str. 3, D-76187 Karlsruhe, Germany and 3Institut für Rechtsmedizin der
Universität zu Köln, Melatengürtel 60–62, D-50823 Köln, Germany
Email: Stephan A Padosch -; Dirk W Lachenmeier* -;
Lars U Kröner -
* Corresponding author †Equal contributors
Absinthe, a bitter spirit containing wormwood (Artemisia absinthium L.), was banned at the beginning
of the 20th century as consequence of its supposed unique adverse effects. After nearly century-
long prohibition, absinthe has seen a resurgence after recent de-restriction in many European
countries. This review provides information on the history of absinthe and one of its constituent,
thujone. Medical and toxicological aspects experienced and discovered before the prohibition of
absinthe are discussed in detail, along with their impact on the current situation. The only
consistent conclusion that can be drawn from those 19th century studies about absinthism is that
wormwood oil but not absinthe is a potent agent to cause seizures. Neither can it be concluded
that the beverage itself was epileptogenic nor that the so-called absinthism can exactly be
distinguished as a distinct syndrome from chronic alcoholism.
The theory of a previous gross overestimation of the thujone content of absinthe may have been
verified by a number of independent studies. Based on the current available evidence, thujone
concentrations of both pre-ban and modern absinthes may not have been able to cause detrimental
health effects other than those encountered in common alcoholism. Today, a questionable
tendency of absinthe manufacturers can be ascertained that use the ancient theories of absinthism
as a targeted marketing strategy to bring absinthe into the spheres of a legal drug-of-abuse.
Misleading advertisements of aphrodisiac or psychotropic effects of absinthe try to re-establish
absinthe's former reputation. In distinction from commercially manufactured absinthes with limited
thujone content, a health risk to consumers is the uncontrolled trade of potentially unsafe herbal
products such as absinthe essences that are readily available over the internet.
Absinthe – a bitter spirit containing wormwood (Artemisia
absinthium L.) (Figure 1) and other herbs – was one of the
most popular alcoholic beverages of late 19th century
Europe. The emerald green drink was consumed by peo-
ple from all walks of life, including the bohemian upper
class, artists, poets and intellectuals. While the lower
classes celebrated l'heure verte (the green hour) in numer-
ous bars and cafés, painters and poets created famous
paintings and poems dedicated to the "green fairy."
Absinthe was popular in fin-de-siècle Paris and la vie
bohème of Prague. The most remarkable celebrity known
Published: 10 May 2006
Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy 2006, 1:14 doi:10.1186/1747-597X-1-
Received: 28 March 2006
Accepted: 10 May 2006
This article is available from:
© 2006 Padosch et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (,
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy 2006, 1:14
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as an absinthe drinker is the Dutch post-impressionist
painter Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890, Figure 2), whose
illness is still a matter of debate among neurologists and
psychiatrists [1-7]. Other famous painters of the time,
such as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Paul Gaugin, and
illustrious poets like Oscar Wilde, Charles Baudelaire, and
Edgar Allan Poe were all fond of absinthe.
Because absinthe consumption reached excessive and
alarming proportions at the turn of the 19th century, many
European governments, as well as the U.S. administra-
tion, successively banned the icon of la vie bohème by sev-
eral prohibition acts. Absinthe was used as an easy target
of the temperance movement with the aim of later pro-
hibiting alcohol in general. But absinthe remained a sin-
gularity as the only kind of alcoholic beverage with a long-
term ban. In some European countries (e.g. UK, Spain,
Czech Republic), however, the "green fairy" survived, but
consumption was comparatively low. The European
Council enacted in 1988 the directive "on the approxima-
tion of the laws of the Member States relating to flavorings
for use in foodstuffs and to source materials for their pro-
duction," that re-allowed wormwood as ingredient of
alcoholic beverages. However, maximum limits of the
wormwood ingredient thujone (Figure 3), which was
speculated to be the most probable cause for absinthism,
were issued [8].
Because of this change of policy, absinthe has seen a
recent resurgence. In contrast to the social, legal and med-
ical problems of the late 19th century, today the image of
the "green fairy" has markedly changed, but still remains
titillating. Today's so called "new absinthe" is offered as a
Vincent van Gogh: Still Life with absinthe (Paris 1887)Figure 2
Vincent van Gogh: Still Life with absinthe (Paris 1887). The
picture shows one of the countless cafés in Paris, in which
absinthe was served. Next to the glass filled with absinthe, a
water bottle is illustrated, which was necessary for drinking
Wormwood, Artemisia absinthium L., drawing of plant, flow-ers, seeds and fruits (drawing by W. Müller, 1885 repro-duced from Thomé [106])Figure 1
Wormwood, Artemisia absinthium L., drawing of plant, flow-
ers, seeds and fruits (drawing by W. Müller, 1885 repro-
duced from Thomé [106]). Wormwood is the characteristic
aromatic component of absinthe.
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newly fashionable, exclusive drink for yuppie parties with
claimed properties ranging from spiritual elucidation to
aphrodisiac stimulation – with corresponding pricing. In
parallel, a fan club within the internet community has
emerged. Absinthe can be purchased via the internet from
various countries worldwide, making it possible to receive
it in countries where it is not legally available. Moreover,
numerous recipes for the self-production of absinthe are
available on the internet. To date, it is unclear if the re-
licensing of absinthe will cause similar or even new and
different forensic, medical and social problems as it did in
the late 1800's.
This article provides information on the history of absinthe
and a prime constituent, thujone. Medical and toxicological
aspects experienced and discovered before the prohibition
of absinthe are discussed in detail, along with their impact
on the current situation. It is the intention of the authors to
provide a comprehensive overview of this topic of multi-fac-
eted interest and to discuss this issue objectively.
The rise and fall of wormwood spirits
Documented medical use of wormwood can be dated
back to the Ebers Papyrus, an Egyptian medical document
dating from about 1552 B.C. and the oldest preserved
medical document [9]. This papyrus is believed to be a
copy of the even more ancient books of Thoth (3500
B.C.). The name "wormwood" is derived from its
anthelmintic properties, which were recognized by the
ancient Egyptians.
Wormwood, in the context of its bitter taste, is mentioned
several times in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 9:15,
13:15). In the biblical context, the plant represented a
curse, calamity (Lamentations 3:15) or injustice (Amos
5:7). In Revelations 8:11, the Greek equivalent ho
apsinthos is used as a name for a star that fell into the
waters and turned them bitter. The Greek word apsinthion
– undrinkable – is most probably the ancestor of the word
absinthe. The Greek mathematician and philosopher,
Pythagoras of Samos (569-475 B.C.), recommended
wine-soaked wormwood leaves to alleviate labor pains;
Hippocrates (~460-377 B.C.) used wormwood extracts for
the treatment of menstrual pain and rheumatism [10].
Pliny the Elder (23–79), the Roman scholar and scientist,
also mentioned extracts of wormwood in his opus Historia
Naturalis [11]. In the Middle Ages, wormwood was used as
a purge and vermifuge, and it developed towards a "gen-
eral remedy for all diseases" and was "a herb of Mars" for
its medical powers [10]. Wormwood's bitter taste inspired
women in those days to apply it to their nipples to encour-
age the weaning of their babies. In fact, Shakespeare has
Juliet's nurse expound upon this in Romeo and Juliet.
The image of just a bitter medicine changed to a popular
drink among the masses in the 16th century. The so-called
Purl of Tudor England was a drink composed of hot ale
and wormwood. Dried leaves of wormwood were infused
in proof-spirits, distilled, and sweetened with sugar as pre-
scribed in Smith's Complete Body of Distilling in 1731 [12].
The French physician Pierre Ordinaire is supposedly the
originator of the classic absinthe recipe. Being acquainted
with the ancient use of wormwood, he began to develop a
recipe for an alcoholic drink, which probably contained
wormwood, anise, hyssop, dittany, sweet flag, melissa and
varying amounts of coriander, veronica, chamomile, pars-
ley and (allegedly) spinach. Dr. Ordinaire, who had fled
the French revolution, settled down in Val-de-Travers in
western Switzerland, which has remained an important
centre of absinthe production. In the small town of Cou-
vet, the elixir (68%vol) soon attained the nickname fée
After Dr. Ordinaire's death, his recipe came into the pos-
session of Henri-Louis Pernod, who began the commer-
cial production of absinthe in 1797. In 1805, Pernod
moved to Pontarlier, France, to serve the French market;
the distillery had one still with a daily capacity of 16 litres.
The widespread use of alcoholic drinks containing worm-
wood extract might have also resulted from the use of
wormwood as a preventive measure for helminthiasis and
fevers during the French conquest of Algeria (1830–
1847). The soldiers returning to France discovered
absinthe as a tasty substitute for their wormwood medi-
cine [13].
Due to a rising interest in anise-based spirits as well as
increased promotion and advertising, the production of
Pernod's absinthe was increased up to a 125,000 liter scale
Structure of α- und β-thujone, the principal components of wormwood oil (Artemisia absinthium L.)Figure 3
Structure of α- und β-thujone, the principal components of
wormwood oil (Artemisia absinthium L.).
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in 1896. This was aided by the drastically reduced produc-
tion of red wine in these years due to major damages
caused by the vine pest. The emerald spirit was, however,
known to be enjoyed excessively on both sides of the
Atlantic [14].
The annual per capita consumption of absinthe in France
increased fifteen-fold between 1875 and 1913. According
to an article in The Times (1915), French consumption of
pure alcohol in 1876 was 15,500 hectoliters; it was 10
times that amount in 1908, and in 1913 it had reached the
figure of 239,492 hectoliters, representing 60 liters per
inhabitant [15]. Parallel to this mass consumption and its
consequences, anti-alcohol movements, winegrowers and
clergy called for the banning of absinthe. Many murders
and other acts of violence were attributed to the influence
of absinthe.
Furthermore, the medical community had developed a
strong scientific and medical case against absinthe, attrib-
uting an increase in insanity and other serious medical
problems to an overindulgence in the drink [13]. It was
widely believed that the problem with alcohol was not the
quantity consumed but the quality. The absinthe prohibi-
tion crusade in France was a paradoxical campaign in
which the wine-producers, suppliers of the vast majority
of alcoholic drinks consumed, backed the temperance
movement [16]. The attention being given to absinthe's
supposed unique qualities can be seen as an attempt to
reduce alcoholism without specifically touching alcohol.
However, it also may have diverted efforts away from the
genuine dangers of heavy alcohol consumption [16].
At first, concerns about absinthe were ignored, especially
by the French government, due to lucrative revenues
resulting from the enormous scale of absinthe sales. By
the end of the 19th century, temperance forces had suc-
ceeded in getting the attention of almost all of France
through educational programs and public awareness cam-
paigns. In 1908 a bill was passed that, ironically, increased
the amount of alcohol in absinthe, the argument being
that the requirement for higher alcoholic strength would
eliminate those producers who used artificial essences
with lower standards of purity [13]. Only rising concerns
about a weakening of military power in the light of
absinthe abuse, especially in the army, pressured the
French government to ban absinthe in 1915. The U.S.
Department of Agriculture had already issued the Food
Inspection Decision 147, which banned absinthe in the
U.S., on 25th July 1912. Belgium, Switzerland and Italy
had also passed laws prohibiting absinthe in 1905, 1908
and 1913 respectively; finally, Germany outlawed the
green fairy on 27th April 1923 [17].
Prestwich concluded that the prohibition of absinthe did
little to improve the health of the French people as
deprived of their traditional absinthe consumers merely
switched to similar drinks. In addition, by stressing the
problem of essences and impure alcohol, temperance
campaigners distracted both medical research and the
public from the real cause of alcoholism, namely the
excessive consumption of any type of alcoholic drink [18].
For further information about the social history of
absinthe, which goes beyond the scope of this review, the
book of Adams is recommended [16]. Further informa-
tion is available in the works of Arnold [19,20], Baker
[10], Conrad [21], Lanier [13], Marrus [22], and Prestwich
[18]. Information about absinthes' paraphernalia and the
drinking ritual is available in an article of Hood [23].
Definition of pre-ban absinthe
The drink to which we refer as "pre-ban absinthe" was the
icon of the belle époque. When dealing with good quality
absinthes, recipe books distinguished between absinthe
Suisse, with an alcohol content of approximately 68–72%
vol, absinthe demi-fine, with 50–68% vol and absinthe ordi-
naire, with a content of 45–50% vol. Absinthe suisse was
considered the highest quality and consisted of pure
herbal distillate, while in the other types, the distillate was
diluted with ethyl alcohol. According to these widely
ranging contents, these absinthes must have contained
different concentrations of thujone.
A definition of absinthe was provided in Swiss law at the
time of the prohibition of absinthe. According to this def-
inition, every spirit drink, without regard to its method of
production, that contains aromatic compounds of worm-
wood herb in combination with other aromatic com-
pounds derived from plants such as anise and fennel, is
defined as absinthe [24]. Thujone was regarded as being
the determining factor amongst the aromatic compounds
in terms of detecting wormwood spirits [25].
In the first step of traditional recipes for distilled absinthe,
wormwood and other dried herbs (e.g., anise, fennel) are
macerated. The macerate of the wormwood herb is of
greenish-brown color, smells aromatic, like all Artemisia
species, and reminds one of the composite herbs, like
camomile. The taste is lightly stinging, strongly bitter and
camphoric. The following distillation of the macerate
results in a distillate that is reduced from the bitter com-
pounds, which are relatively non-volatile. The distillation
is conducted in a still with a very flat helmet slowly heated
in a water or steam bath to avoid boilover that would neg-
atively influence the product quality [26,27]. The distilla-
tion process is usually stopped at an alcoholic strength of
60%vol [27,28]. The characteristic, lightly volatile, fine
aromatic components of the wormwood aroma appear in
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the first fraction between 80 and 60% volume, while the
middle fractions posses a cinnamon or clove-like aroma
[29]. Distillation of absinthe should never be carried on to
the end, as the taste of the product would be too strong,
and less fine [26]. Therefore, only the main fractions
(heart) are used for the production of high-quality
absinthe. The heads and tailings are collected separately
and added to subsequent macerations or used to make
absinthe ordinaire after renewed rectification [28].
As emphasized by Arnold [20], the distillation of absinthe
may have been a type of "steam distillation" as significant
amounts of water were added to the alcoholic macerate
prior to distillation. Due to the influence of steam distilla-
tion, higher thujone may have been distilled over [20].
In the second step, wormwood (usually Artemisia pontica)
and other herbs are added to the colorless distillate. This
is done to accomplish the characteristic green colouring
by chlorophyll and to achieve a mild bitter taste, as well as
to extract other aromatic compounds. Because of the easy
denaturation of chlorophyll through light and warmth,
the characteristic color of a traditionally produced
absinthe is pale greenish-yellow. Afterwards, the beverage
is diluted with water until drinking strength is reached.
Typical historic recipes are given in the books of Duplais
[30], Fritsch [27], Bedel [31] and de Brevans [28]. The
composition of herbs used along with the wormwood dif-
fers from recipe to recipe. To improve the taste or add
coloring, anise, star anise, lemon balm, hyssop, juniper,
nutmeg, veronica, angelica root, melissa, coriander, cam-
omile or parsley were added. Each country produced its
own types of absinthe. For example, in the Czech Repub-
lic, peppermint was added, but neither anise nor fennel.
In Switzerland, melissa, hyssop or angelica root were
added to the Swiss alpine wormwood, which was a valued
ingredient due to its strong aroma [32], while in France,
coriander was added.
Because the essential oils from the diverse herbs can be
kept in solution only in high alcohol concentrations, the
addition of water causes a precipitation visible as an
opaque clouding of absinthe. This phenomenon is called
the Louche effect. The characteristic bitterness is caused by
sesquiterpene-lactone absinthin, which can still be orga-
noleptically detected in a concentration as low as 1 g in
about 70 liters. Due to different historical aspects of
absinthe, a sub-division into the historic "pre-ban
absinthe" and the currently available "modern absinthe"
will be used in this article.
Pre-ban absinthe – a target for food adulteration
Besides the above-mentioned herbal ingredients, different
manufacturers of absinthe sometimes used strange or
even toxic additives such as methanol, sweet flag (Acorus
calamus L.), tansy (Tanacetum vulgare L.), nutmeg (Myris-
tica fragrans HOUT), antimony, aniline green, copper sul-
fate and cupric acetate indigo.
The Lancet reported that, in the days of pre-ban absinthe,
antimony (antimonyl tartrate) was added with the well-
meant intent to decrease absinthe's toxicity. However, it
was questionable even in 1873 if "quantities of tartar
emetic" would not rather adulterate the spirit as it would
cause nausea, sickness and toxic effects of its own [33].
From today's view it is more likely that antimony salts
were added to make absinthe turn milky when adding
water simulating the Louche effect. Increasing consump-
tion, which arose competition among the manufacturers,
flooded the market with such imitations of absinthe.
Absinthe can so easily be adulterated that Emerson won-
dered if the genuine article was still in existence [34].
In addition, instead of traditional production by distilla-
tion, absinthe could be made using herbal essences.
According to Tibbles, the color of properly made absinthe
is entirely due to chlorophyll derived from the green
leaves of wormwood, hyssop, spinach, parsley, nettles and
veronica; however, in the years preceding 1912, the spirit
was most frequently colored by artificial agents [35]. Con-
venience products like absinthe extracts, which had only
to be dissolved in alcohol and colored with food dye [27],
were also commercially available at that time. As food
adulteration, the light green color of chlorophyll was
sometimes enhanced with inorganic salts like copper sul-
phate or copper acetate [36]. Inferior and falsified prod-
ucts were typically made by mixing industrial alcohol
with flavorings and artificial food dyes, in the worst case
with antimony trichloride, and copper salts.
Another general problem at that time was that heads and
tailings, which were separated from the product fractions
during distillation by legal manufacturers, were purchased
by illegal manufacturers and used as a main component
for adulterated absinthe products. The alcohol employed
for absinthe was described to have been "frequently very
impure" [37]. Emerson also wondered if total abolish-
ment had occurred if the beverage had remained in its
purity [34]. Given these facts, it is easily comprehensible
that the prohibition of such a mixture could successfully
eradicate a whole syndrome overnight.
Modern absinthe
Most absinthe brands available today contain mainly the
same herbal ingredients and extracts as pre-ban absinthe.
Absinthe produced within the European Union is limited
in its thujone content to 35 mg/l (maximum limit for bit-
ter spirits) [8].
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Top grade absinthe products are still manufactured
according to traditional recipes, without the addition of
dye or other additives. Some products are made of herbal
distillates and are differentiated by a mild flavor. Because
such products are colorless, they are sold as Blanche or La
Bleue. Types with a lower alcoholic strength and added
sugar are sold as absinthe-liqueurs. Independent of tradi-
tional recipes, many products sold nowadays are made
with readily bought finished extracts of wormwood or
other plants, which are blended with ethyl alcohol of agri-
cultural origin. For the coloring artificial dye is used, espe-
cially mixtures of tartrazin (E102, FD&C Yellow No. 5)
and patent blue V (E131) or brilliant blue FCF (E133).
Inferior products contain no herbal extracts and are made
solely by the blending of artificial flavors, coloring and
ethyl alcohol [17].
In cases like this, sometimes even the macerated herbs are
not distilled but only filtrated, diluted to drinking
strength and bottled. These products have a strong pro-
nounced taste of wormwood and a very strong, bitter
taste. Further falsification is possible with the addition of
extracts of other thujone-containing plants (e.g., Thuja
occidentalis L., Salvia officinalis L.).
Nineteenth century studies about absinthism
Clincial effects of absinthism
When discussing the clinical effects of thujone and
absinthe, it should be kept in mind that the majority of
the data available was derived from clinical observations
made in the late 1800's and are therefore lacking reliabil-
ity and clinical significance.
With the increasing mass consumption of absinthe, more
and more of the chronic – and most probably high-dose –
absinthe consumers developed seizures, speech impair-
ment, sleep disorder, mental prostration, auditory and
visual hallucinations and finally death. This collection of
symptoms gave birth to the term "absinthism;" it is
unclear, however, if this syndrome ever really existed at
all. Absinthism in these days was supposedly further char-
acterized by brain damage, gastrointestinal problems, risk
of psychiatric disease and even suicide [38]. Even an
increased incidence of oesophageal cancer in absinthe
drinkers was noticed [39]. In contrast, other authors rec-
ommended moderate doses of absinthe as a valuable rem-
edy against depressions [40].
Both the serious and the populist medical literature of the
day demonized absinthe, in many cases laying the
groundwork for the anti-absinthe temperance movement.
The definition of absinthism as a particular syndrome sep-
arate from alcoholism is intimately connected with the
French physician Valentin Magnan. A biography of Mag-
nan is available in a recent review article [41]. In Magnan's
work about absinthism between 1864 and 1874 he
described visual and auditory hallucinations accompa-
nied by alterations in consciousness after consumption of
absinthe [42,43]. Other authors described acute symp-
toms of absinthe, such as hallucination, restlessness, con-
fusion, delirium and seizures [44] (Table 1). Symptomatic
differences between the drinker of absinthe and the ordi-
nary alcoholic were presented at the First International
Eugenics Congress: in absinthism, the "hallucination
insanity" was described to be "more active with sudden
attacks of delirium, more terrifying, sometimes provoking
most dangerous reactions of extreme violence" [45]. In
addition, complete statistics of the central service for the
admission of insane persons for the town of Paris were
given. In the years 1867–1912, a number of 16,532
patients were treated for alcoholic intoxication. 70.3% of
all patients were diagnosed as "chronic alcoholics," but
only 1.0% of all patients were found to have symptoms of
absinthism. Due to the high consumption of absinthe in
Paris of that time, one questions if very severe forms of
chronic alcoholism were misleadingly described as absin-
In a clinical report on a case of absinthe intoxication, pub-
lished in the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal (today the
New England Journal of Medicine) in 1868, Amory, a former
pupil of Magnan, observed "pleural effusions", "epilepti-
form seizures" and a "reddish discoloration of the urine"
[38]. The latter symptom can be interpreted – among
other possible causes – as an episode of acute porphyria.
It has been shown in vitro that thujone and other terpenes
exhibit porphyrogenic properties. In primary chicken
embryo liver cell cultures, an acute porphyria-like state
was mimicked by the addition of the iron chelator desfer-
rioxamine. Upon addition of thujone, a marked accumu-
lation of protoporphyrin was observed. Bonkovsky et al.
concluded that the tested terpenes, i.e., thujone, are por-
phyrinogenic and hazardous, especially to patients with
underlying defects in hepatic heme synthesis [46].
Animal experiments with wormwood extract
It has to be stressed again that clinical reports of these days
were more or less only descriptive or speculative, as causal
connections between absinthe and thujone and the
above-mentioned symptoms could never reliably be
Table 1: Main acute and chronic effects of absinthe reported in
the 19th century
Acute effects Chronic absinthism
vertigo mania
seizures softening of the brain
nervous debility general paralysis
hallucinatory delirium psychosis
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proven. However, experimental studies were performed
on animals to prove that wormwood was the causing
agent of absinthism, especially the seizures. All these stud-
ies were carried out using so-called "essence d'absinthe"
(pharmaceutical wormwood extracts) or pure etheric oil
of wormwood, however, often only the term "absinthe"
was used for these extracts. Even in current history books
the terms "absinthe" and "essence d'absinthe" are mis-
leadingly used as synonymous [13].
If injected in pure form, wormwood extracts and alcohol
showed distinctly different symptoms (Table 2). These
results were generalized and transferred to humans who
drank high concentrations of alcohol in combination
with low concentrations of wormwood extract. In further
experiments, guinea pigs – among other small animals –
were placed in the presence of wormwood essence, while
the control guinea pig was "shut up with a saucer of pure
alcohol." In contrast to the animal breathing alcohol,
which was reported to have simply become drunk, the
guinea pig inhaling the vapors of wormwood experienced
initial excitement and subsequently seizures [43].
These experiments and deductions of Magnan et al. were
criticized as early as 1869, when The Lancet commented
upon the inadequacy of the evidence produced in order to
prove that absinthism was different in its nature from
chronic alcoholism. The sleeplessness, the tremor, the hal-
lucinations, the paralysis, and even the seizures, were
described to be well-known symptoms of simple alco-
holic excess. The effect of inhalation of concentrated
wormwood fumes was seen as not transferable to the
effect of very small, continuous oral doses [47]. In Great
Britain, the hostility against Magnans experiments led so
far that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to
Animals prosecuted three English doctors for assisting
Magnan in 1874 in demonstrating that intravenous injec-
tion of wormwood extracts into a dog induced epilepsy.
The prosecution failed as Magnan had discreetly returned
to France [48].
Further investigations were undertaken to determine the
origin of the fits in wormwood epilepsy by Boyce [49]. For
this purpose, numerous lesions were made both in the
brain and spinal cord of cats, and wormwood adminis-
tered immediately or after a lapse of days or weeks. It was
found that wormwood, acting upon the bulbo-spinal
centers (including the cerebellum) alone, could produce a
series of "clonic fits", differing from the cortical in the
slower rhythm of the contractions. In experiments of Ott
upon rabbits those results were disputed as no "spinal"
but only "cortical convulsions" were determined, which
raises the question if the crude techniques of the 19th cen-
tury were suitable at all to determine the physiological ori-
gin of epilepsy [50].
In the noteworthy work of Ossipow, the problem of dif-
ferent wormwood extracts to achieve epilepsy in animals
was discussed for the first time [51]. The failure of some
researchers to replicate the experiments of Magnan was
explained by misunderstandings between "absinthe",
"essence d'absinthe", and "extrait d'absinthe". Ossipow
stressed that only the "essence d'absinthe" (alcohol-free
wormwood oil) and not the ready-to-drink alcoholic bev-
erage (in France called "extrait d'absinthe") is usable to
trigger seizures in animals.
Further studies were conducted by Cunningham [52] and
Lesieur [53]. The only consistent conclusion that can be
drawn from all these animal experiments is that worm-
wood oil but not absinthe is a potent agent to cause sei-
zures in animals.
Degeneration and absinthism
A further strong argument of the anti-absinthe phalanx
was grounded on the Lamarckian theories of the inherit-
ance of diseases (Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, 1744–1829).
According to these theories, any traits acquired by
absinthe drinkers would be passed on to their children.
The idea of degeneration was also used by Magnan to
explain mental illnesses [54]. It is interesting to note that
this hereditary feature was also ascribed to alcoholism.
Table 2: Comparative table between symptoms of absinthism and alcoholism according to animal experiments of Amory (1868) [38].
Absinthism (Injection of pure wormwood extract (0.8–4.5 g)
into the stomach of different animals)
Alcoholism (Injection of alcohol (0.8–5 g) into the stomach of
different animals)
Animal perfectly well for fifteen minutes, at the least after the ingestion;
with the exception of a few muscular twichings and a slight uneasiness.
In a very few minutes symptoms of inebriation resulting in torpor.
Musuclar agitation, commencing in the anterior portion of the body. Paralysis, commencing in posterior extremities, and then extending to
the anterior.
No paralysis. Paralysis of both posterior and anterior extremities in succession.
Epileptiform convulsions and rigidity, resulting in a rapid death. No convulsions. Stupor, coma, resolution and a gradual death.
No apparent lesion, except, perhaps a slight cerebral congestion,
showing the cause of death to be intoxication of the poison.
Lesions of the brain and of the alimentary canal; gastritis and enteritis
might have supervened, had the animals lived long enough for their
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The editorial section of JAMA published the theory that a
larger proportion of the children of alcoholics were more
"idiotic, epileptic, neurotic, alcoholic, degenerate and
deformed" than the children of healthy parentage, and
total abstinence was postulated [55].
The condition of absinthism was introduced into late 19th
century medicine together with the first emerging descrip-
tions of alcoholism [37]. Intriguingly, this fact could hold
the key for the solution of the debate about whether
absinthism was a clinical pattern of its own and how it
should be distinguished from chronic alcoholism. As
mentioned previously, due to the low solubility of etheric
oils, absinthe usually contains high concentrations of eth-
anol, which means that there was no ingestion of thujone
without ingestion of remarkably high quantities of etha-
Recently, in an editorial, Strang et al. raised the question
of "absinthe: what's your poison?" [56]. To us, however,
the question is really what happened to the symptoms of
absinthism after its prohibition. Did this mysterious syn-
drome disappear abruptly or did these symptoms simply
continue to exist among chronic alcohol abusers under
the name of alcoholism, which seems to be more toler-
ated by society? Finally, as with so many facets of the
green fairy, this issue remains controversial and perhaps
will never be solved.
Modern studies about pharmacology and
toxicology of thujone
In the 20th century, as a consequence of the description of
the bicyclic monoterpene thujone as the main component
of wormwood oil, the main focus of scientific studies was
changed from the research of wormwood extract to iso-
lated thujone. It must be stressed, however, that besides
the β-thujone chemotype of the wormwood plant further
chemotypes were described, which contain cis-chrysan-
thenylacetat, cis-chrysanthenol, cis-expoxyocimene, sabi-
nylacetate or bornylacetate as principal component [57-
63]. In the west alpine area above 1000 m the cis-epoxyo-
cimen type is predominat, while the β-thujone type rather
exists in the lower zones [60]. In wormwood oil from the
Tuscany [64] or the Pyrenees [58] neither α- nor β-thujone
could be detected. These significant differences in compo-
sition of wormwood may also be attributable for the pre-
viously described failure of some researchers to replicate
the animal experiments of Magnan.
The acute and chronic toxicology of thujone were
reviewed in the WHO Food Additives Series 16 [65] and
more recently by the Scientific Committee on Food of the
European Commission [66]. The principal data are sum-
marized in Table 3. The toxicological evaluations led to
the establishment of maximum limits for thujone (35 mg/
l in bitters) by the Codex Alimentarius Commission of the
FAO/WHO [67], which were adopted by many countries
including the European Union [8] and Switzerland [68]
but not the USA, where manufacture and importation of
absinthe is still prohibited [69,70]. It was noted, however,
that in the USA consumption and possession remained
legal, so that travelers returning to the USA with a bottle
or customers buying it from Europe on the internet are
not guilty of any crime, though they could have their bot-
tle confiscated [71].
Until today, only little valid data are available concerning
the effect of α-/β-thujone, especially in regard to the influ-
ence on the central nervous system after absinthe con-
sumption. In comparison to β-thujone, α-thujone is
believed to be 2.3 fold more toxic [72]. A recent study of
Dettling et al. showed that the administration of alcohol
containing a high concentration of thujone (100 mg/l)
had a negative effect on attention performance [73].
When the subjects were under the influence of alcohol or
were administered both alcohol and low thujone concen-
trations (10 mg/l), these effects were not observed. Simi-
larly, it was found that only high concentrations of
Table 3: Summary of data about toxicology of thujone
Toxicity data Reference
oral LD50 in rats 192 mg/kg bw [66]
oral LD50 in rats 500 mg/kg bw [107]
iv LD50 in rabbits 0.031 mg/kg bw [107]
NOEL for convulsions in rats 12.5 mg/kg bw (males) [108]
NOEL for convulsions in rats 5 mg/kg bw (females), 10 mg/kg bw (males) [66]
NOEL for convulsions in rats 5 mg/kg bw [66]
TDI (based on NOEL with safety factor of 500) 10 µg/kg bw/d [66]
Metabolism 2-,4-, and 7-hydroxylation [75,76]
Mechanism of toxicity GABA Type A modulation (α-thujone neurotoxicity, convulsant effects) [72,74,76]
Mechanism of toxicity Porphyrogenicity (determined in cultures of chick embryo liver cells) [46]
Behavioral effects 5-HT3 receptor modulation, but no conclusive evidence for psychotropic actions
of thujone
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thujone could temporarily counteract the anxiolytic effect
of alcohol.
The interaction of α-thujone with γ-amino butyric acid
(GABA) dependent chloride channels can explain its con-
vulsant effects [72,74-76]. It was determined that α-thu-
jone acts like many naturally occurring and synthetic
convulsive agents (e.g. picrotoxin) by blocking GABA
mediated inhibition. The effect on the brain is excitatory
(analeptic). Anxiogenic and possibly alerting effects of
GABA antagonists were also noted. However, Olsen com-
mented that in absinthe one is balancing the effect of thu-
jone with the intoxicating, disinhibitory, and depressant
effects of ethanol [74].
Deiml et al. were not addressing the toxicity but instead
were researching the 5-HT3 receptor as a potential site of
psychotropic actions of α-thujone. In homomeric recep-
tors, α-thujone enhanced the inherent channel-blocking
potency of the natural ligand, 5-HT. In heteromeric recep-
tors, α-thujone recruited an additional channel-blocking
component of the agonist. The authors could, therefore,
prove a reduction of the 5-HT3 receptor activity, but it
stayed open if this inhibitory action on serotonergic
responses contributes to behavioral effects of thujone
Interestingly, the activation of human bitter taste recep-
tors by α-thujone was recently proven by Behrens et al.
and it was found that the receptor is sufficiently sensitive
to serve as protection against the ingestion of toxic
amounts of this substance [78]. However, it is questiona-
ble if these findings can be transferred to the ingestion of
thujone in alcoholic beverages. Possible receptor interac-
tions between thujone and ethanol as well as differences
between sober and inebriated persons must be taken into
The sometimes observed porphyrinogenic effect of thu-
jone and other terpenoids is explained with the pathway
of metabolization by the hepatic cytochrome P-450 sys-
tem [46,76,79]. Under the presumption of relatively high
thujone concentrations of 260 mg/l, Bonkovsky et al.
speculated that if there is an appreciable hepatic first-pass
extraction and if the rate of hepatic metabolism is not
unusually rapid, the concentrations in the livers of
absinthe drinkers could have been in the 20–200 µM
range. Such concentrations would be sufficient to produce
porphyric crises in patients with underlying defects in
hepatic heme synthesis. An additional effect of ethanol,
perhaps acting synergistically, was also anticipated, since
ethanol and other short-chain alcohols found in alcoholic
beverages are porphyrogenic [46].
Intoxication due to wormwood or thujone rarely occurs,
either due to a misconceived belief in folk remedies or
simple ignorance [80]. In 1862, Smith described a case of
ingestion of about 14 ml of oil of wormwood by a male
adult. The patient was insensible, convulsed, the jaw
clenched, and foaming at the mouth; tendency to vomit
was also present [81]. To our knowledge, there is only one
recent clinical case report by Weisbord et al. from the U.S.
dealing with obvious acute thujone intoxication [82]. A
31-year-old male had ingested "herbal oil," which he had
assumed to be the spirit absinthe and had purchased over
the internet from a website that sold essential oils for aro-
matherapy. Several hours later, the patient became listless,
suffered tonic-clonic seizures and finally developed rhab-
domyolysis and then acute renal failure. It is tempting to
speculate that these symptoms were caused by thujone,
however other ingredients of the herbal oil cannot be
excluded as the culprit.
Very few data published only in non peer-reviewed litera-
ture exist about the pharmacology of thujone. Max
pointed out that the typical 2–4 mg of thujone, which
were consumed per drink were far below the level at
which acute pharmacological effects are observed [83].
This is confirmed by Hinkelbein, who states that by the
consumption of absinthe, up to a blood alcohol concen-
tration of 2.5 g/l, approximately 3.5 mg of thujone are
ingested (0.005 mg/kg bodyweight) [84]. In this order of
magnitude, it is highly improbable that central effects can
be caused by thujone.
A pilot drinking study by Kröner et al. resulted in high
blood alcohol concentration, but as expected no thujone
was detected [85]. The probands examined did not show
any central effect caused by the terpenoids besides the
effect of the alcohol. Therefore, the adverse potency of
absinthe can be neglected, if the EU limit is obeyed.
The German federal institute for risk assessment holds the
view that, even if the legal limit of 35 mg/l is significantly
exceeded, the consumer does not ingest health-threaten-
ing amounts of thujone. Because of the high alcoholic
strength it is advised against a continuous and excessive
consumption [86].
Toxicological rehabilitation of absinthe
Until recently, the thujone content of pre-ban absinthe
was largely unknown and was calculated in 1992 by
Arnold [20] to be as high as 260 mg/l (a value very often
cited in the newer literature, e.g. Refs.
[10,16,46,56,87,88]). The value of 260 mg/l was deter-
mined on the basis that 100 l of absinthe employed 2.5 kg
of dried Artemisia absinthium (1.5% oil, of which 67% is
thujone; corresponding to 251 mg/l of thujone in the
final product) and 1 kg of dried Artemisia pontica for col-
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oration (0.34% oil, of which 25% is thujone, correspond-
ing to 9 mg/l of thujone in the final product) [20]. Max
independently calculated a similar concentration [83].
These calculations assumed that the total amount of thu-
jone would be recovered in the final product. The follow-
ing three points were given by Arnold to support his
calculation of relatively high concentrations. First, by add-
ing water to the first decoction before heating, a type of
"steam-distillation" was achieved wherein the amount of
any constituent distilled over depends on both its vapor
pressure and molecular weight. In this way the effect of a
low vapor pressure for a particular compound may be
counteracted to some extent by its high molecular weight
relative to that of water. Second, the distillation head of
the industrial apparatus was simple and little attempt was
made to restrict carry-over by aerosol entrainment. And
third, the purpose of the secondary extraction at moderate
temperature was twofold, to achieve a green coloration
and to add additional flavor [20].
However, it cannot be totally disregarded that during dis-
tillation a discrimination of thujone occurs. Historic rec-
ipe books prescribed the removal of the heads and tailings
[26-28]. Duplais, for example, indicates that after macera-
tion in 16 l of alcohol (85%vol) and addition of 15 l of
water, only 15 l of product are withdrawn. 1 l of alcohol
is discarded in the process [30]. In a non peer-reviewed
magazine article, Turner described first experiments con-
ducted by T. Breaux on a French distillery built in 1834.
After distillation in a historic still built for absinthe, the
thujone originally present in the macerate was not recov-
ered in the distillate [71]. The thujone content of absinthe
can then only be caused by the second coloration step,
which would lead to a concentration of 9 mg/l according
to Arnold's calculation.
Baker reports another calculation that resulted in thujone
concentrations of 60–90 mg/l [10]. Wilson [89] estimated
in 1936 that absinthe made from essences contained 1.8
to 45 mg/l, and absinthe made with wormwood con-
tained 2 to 34 mg/l of thujone.
Hutton pointed out that the thujone content of pre-ban
absinthes could have been overestimated because of the
insufficient analytical methods that were available at the
time [88]. Historically applied methods for the determi-
nation of levels of thujone in absinthe were based upon
iodometric titration [90] or color reactions [91]; these
sometimes provided only detection limits as high as 20
mg/l and were therefore unfit for the detection of small
quantities. At the beginning of the 19th century, the most
modern methods were based upon the reaction of thu-
jone with sodium nitroprusside, sodium hydroxide and
acetic acid and provided a limit of detection of 5 mg/l
[92]. However, this color reaction was highly unspecific
and therefore other essential oils, aldehydes and ketones
led to a similar reaction to thujone. Even by improved
sample preparation, it was not possible to avoid these
interferences. A positive reaction in the case of thujone
analysis could not automatically be interpreted in such a
way as to prove that the spirit in question was made with
wormwood. However, a negative result was regarded as
proof of the absence of wormwood oil [93].
The sensitive and selective determination of thujone in
spirits was only possible by using modern chromato-
graphic methods. The first gas chromatographic method
with a flame ionization detector for the determination of
thujone in alcoholic beverages was developed by Mérat et
al. in 1976 [94]. In a recent study of our working group
[95] absinthes produced according to historic recipes did
only contain relatively low concentrations of thujone
(mean: 1.3 ± 1.6 mg/l, range: 0–4.3 mg/l), which is 50–
100 times below the NOEL (No observed effects level) of
thujone for convulsions determined in animal experi-
ments. A vintage absinthe from Tarragona (1930) showed
a relatively low thujone concentration of 1.3 mg/l. Swiss
Val-de-Travers absinthes from traditional small distilleries
contained 9.4 and 1.7 mg/l of thujone. Krumm et al. ver-
ified our results by their production of absinthes after
authentic French recipes. All manufactured products had
thujone concentrations below 1.5 mg/l [96]. Hutton
found 6 mg/l of thujone in a Pernod absinthe from 1900
[88]. In a non peer-reviewed magazine article, Ashcraft
reports tests on pre-ban absinthes conducted by T. Breaux,
who found thujone amounts around 5 mg/l [97]. Schaefer
et al. found such low thujone concentrations (<0.01 mg/
l) in a legal French absinthe dating from 1904 that the
authors even proposed the "toxicological rehabilitation"
of absinthe [98]. In a current study of the neuropsychiatric
toxicity of absinthe by Luauté et al. it was concluded that
recent toxicological studies do not prove, any more than
in Magnan's time, that the beverage itself was epilep-
togenic [99]. The toxicity of pre-ban absinthes, as that of
modern ones, was found to be essentially due to their
alcohol content.
The theory of a gross overestimation of the thujone con-
tent was, therefore, verified by six independent studies
[88,95-99]. The discrepancy between the experimental
findings of pre-ban absinthes (low thujone concentra-
tions) and the calculations of Arnold and Max (high thu-
jone concentrations) [20,83] could not be resolved so far.
Further research is needed to study the behavior of thu-
jone during distillation. Considerable differences to the
composition of the distillate may result between batch-
wise distillation of diluted alcohol and fractional distilla-
tion of an undiluted macerate.
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Currently no experimental evidence does suggest that his-
toric absinthes had such high thujone contents to cause
toxic effects. On the contrary, the analyzed historic prod-
ucts appear to have complied with today's maximum lim-
its derived to exclude toxic or other unwanted effects. The
feared return of absinthism, proclaimed e.g. by Hein et al.
[100], Holstege et al. [44] or Müller [101] is therefore
exaggerated. The effects of the recent types of absinthe are
predominantly caused by the naturally high alcoholic
strength (>50%vol), although it is possible to reach effec-
tive thujone blood levels, if illegally produced and distrib-
uted absinthe is ingested.
Present impact of absinthe due to change of
policy in the European Union
The policy change in the European Union was primarily
based on the fact that absinthe was never prohibited in
some European countries including United Kingdom and
Spain. Under regard of the toxicological studies given
above, the prohibition in other European countries was
seen as a trade barrier, so that a harmonization of the
European law was enacted [8]. Even if a renewal of absin-
thism can be ruled out, the recent re-emergence of
absinthe led to some new problems.
In a recent study it was noted that thujone concentrations
of more than 10 mg/l were found in 22% of commercial
samples [102]. Some of today's commercial samples
appear to have higher thujone concentrations than pre-
ban absinthes. This may be due to the questionable ten-
dency of some absinthe manufacturers and suppliers to
advertise the thujone content and supposed psychoactive
or aphrodisiac properties of their products on their web-
sites. The ancient theories of Magnan et al. are used as a
targeted marketing strategy to bring absinthe into the
sphere of a legal drug-of-abuse.
Baker alluded some of the anecdotal reports on the power
of absinthe, which are detailed in a number of internet
forums, to a mere placebo effect, especially since the
brand in question contained virtually no wormwood at all
[10]. A placebo effect is also a possible interpretation for
the "vaunted aphrodisiac powers" of absinthe that were
advertised in a 1971 Playboy feature on absinthe by Zol-
otow [103]. We found no scientific evidence supporting
the conclusion from the article that "absinthe is one of the
best and safest aphrodisiacs ever invented by the mind of
man". However, the aphrodisiac effects are nowadays
even promised on some absinthe bottle labels.
In addition, slogans such as "contains the maximum
allowed thujone concentration of 35 mg/l" should be crit-
ically judged by the appropriate authorities. Some so-
called absinthe essences (with high thujone contents of
750 mg/l) are even sold on the internet as a possible
means for customers to "regulate the thujone content"
themselves, so that "it is no problem anymore to step
behind the 35-mg border." Absinthe is also often mislead-
ingly advertised as having a cannabis-like effect. This is
based on a hypothesis – again – from Magnan that
absinthe acts in the same way as hashish [43]. The
hypothesis was renewed in 1975 by relatively far-fetched
findings stating that, because of structural similarities
between thujone and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), both
substances might activate the same receptor in the central
nervous system [104]; this could not be proven in later
experiments by Meschler and Howlett [87]. The THC-
absinthe connection may serve as an archetype of how
conjectural scientific evidence can enter our modern cul-
ture. A search on Google for "absinthe and THC" pro-
duces approximately 36,400 hits mostly of shopping sites,
which advertise absinthe for psychoactive effects. In one
case, the declaration "cannabis-like effect" was even found
on a bottle label.
In closing it should not remain unmentioned that some
high-quality distilleries have re-created absinthes accord-
ing to pre-ban recipes [97]. Hopefully, after the recent de-
restriction of absinthe in Switzerland, absinthe's country
of origin, further high-grade products may show up on the
market. Switzerland also proposed to introduce protected
geographic denominations of origin and protected geo-
graphic indications on the labeling of absinthe, as well as
the ban of artificial food dyes.
From this critical review of the literature, it is concluded
that chronic abuse of absinthe did not cause any distinct
syndrome. The so-called absinthism cannot exactly be dis-
tinguished from chronic alcoholism. The literature gives
proof that the thujone concentrations of pre-ban
absinthes were not able to cause such toxic effects (e.g. sei-
zures) that were found in animal experiments with pure
wormwood extracts. However, much of the literature is
focused on thujone as the potentially toxic component of
absinthe. The possibility remains that other constitutents
found within wormwood or other ingredients of absinthe
may cause potential health problems. The paucity of good
scientific studies about absinthe, especially in the realm of
chronic human consumption and long term effects of thu-
jone-containing beverages must again be pointed out.
Based on the current available evidence, commercially
manufactured absinthe appears to not cause detrimental
health effects other than those encountered in common
alcoholism. The exceptionally high alcoholic strength of
absinthe (>50%vol) alone may lead to major health and
social problems, but is not unique to this spirit. However,
misleading advertisements of aphrodisiac or psychotropic
effects of absinthe try to re-establish absinthe's former
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reputation. A health risk to consumers is also the uncon-
trolled trade of potentially unsafe herbal products such as
absinthe essences that are readily available over the inter-
On absinthe, Marie Corelli once said: "Let me be mad,
mad with the madness of absinthe, the wildest, most lux-
urious madness in the world" [105]. After having been
banned from most European countries for almost a cen-
tury, the emerald green, mysterious drink has returned to
the market, resuming all the myths and legends of former
years. After the green fairy had inspired the artistic and lit-
erary set of the belle époque and at the same time suppos-
edly poisoned numerous people, the impact that absinthe
will exert on modern society remains unclear.
Competing interests
The author(s) declare that they have no competing inter-
Authors' contributions
SAP and LUK were responsible for the original concept
and design of the article and drafted the sections "The rise
and fall of wormwood spirits" and "Nineteenth century
studies about absinthism". DWL contributed the sections
"Definition of pre-ban absinthe", "Pre-ban absinthe – a
target for food adulteration", "Modern absinthe", "Mod-
ern studies about pharmacology and toxicology of thu-
jone", "Toxicological Rehabilitation of Absinthe",
"Present Impact" and revised the final draft. All authors
read and approved the final manuscript.
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... The Egyptian Ebers Papyrus from about 1552 BC and the Old Testament of the Bible both contain references to A. absinthium [15]. Archaeologists have found tablets with cuneiform characters referring to A. absinthium that probably originated in the Babylonian civilizations [16]. The Greek mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras of Samos recommended the use of absinthe as a treatment for the pains of childbirth (569-475 BC). ...
... The Greek mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras of Samos recommended the use of absinthe as a treatment for the pains of childbirth (569-475 BC). Hippocrates (460-377 BC) used A. absinthium extracts for the treatment of rheumatism and menstrual pain, and he also recommended it for jaundice [16]. In Ethiopia, A. absinthium is used in rituals called Atete; it was known as ariti, and was also used for the treatment of non-infectious and infectious diseases such as malaria, helminths, and animal injuries [10,17]. ...
Full-text available
Artemisia absinthium L. is one of the plants which has been used in folk medicine for many diseases over many centuries. This study aims to analyze the chemical composition of the Artemisia absinthium ethyl acetate and its aqueous extracts and to evaluate their effect on the pancreatic α-amylase enzyme and the intestinal α-glucosidase enzyme. In this study, the total contents of phe-nolic compounds, flavonoids, and condensed tannins in ethyl acetate and the aqueous extracts of Artemisia absinthium leaves were determined by using spectrophotometric techniques, then the an-tioxidant capacity of these extracts was examined using three methods, namely, the DPPH (2, 2-diphenyl-1picrylhydrazyl) free radical scavenging method, the iron reduction method FRAP, and the β-carotene bleaching method. The determination of the chemical composition of the extracts was carried out using high-performance liquid chromatography-the photodiode array detector (HPLC-DAD). These extracts were also evaluated for their ability to inhibit the activity of the pan-creatic α-amylase enzyme, as well as the intestinal α-glucosidase enzyme, in vitro and in vivo, thus causing the reduction of blood glucose. The results of this study showed that high polyphenol and flavonoid contents were obtained in ethyl acetate extract with values of 60.34 ± 0.43 mg GAE/g and 25.842 ± 0.241 mg QE/g, respectively, compared to the aqueous extract. The results indicated that the aqueous extract had a higher condensed tannin content (3.070 ± 0.022 mg EC/g) than the ethyl acetate extract (0.987 ± 0.078 mg EC/g). Ethyl acetate extract showed good DPPH radical scavenging and iron reduction FRAP activity, with an IC50 of 0.167 ± 0.004 mg/mL and 0.923 ± 0.0283 mg/mL, respectively. The β-carotene test indicated that the aqueous and ethyl acetate extracts were able to delay the decoloration of β-carotene with an inhibition of 48.7% and 48.3%, respectively, which may mean that the extracts have antioxidant activity. HPLC analysis revealed the presence of naringenin and caffeic acid as major products in AQE and EAE, respectively. Indeed, this study showed that the aqueous and ethyl acetate extracts significantly inhibited the pancreatic α-amylase and intestinal α-glucosidase, in vitro. To confirm this result, the inhibitory effect of these plant extracts on the enzymes has been evaluated in vivo. Oral intake of the aqueous extract significantly attenuated.
... Absinthe and the use of wormwood extracts (A. absinthium) for food purposes were prohibited around the years 1910-1920 in many countries as their consumption was associated with a range of severe adverse symptoms called absinthism, including convulsions, blindness, hallucinations and mental deterioration [89,[138][139][140]. Padosch et al. [139] re-viewed the available data concerning medical and toxicological aspects experienced and discovered before the prohibition of absinthe. ...
... absinthium) for food purposes were prohibited around the years 1910-1920 in many countries as their consumption was associated with a range of severe adverse symptoms called absinthism, including convulsions, blindness, hallucinations and mental deterioration [89,[138][139][140]. Padosch et al. [139] re-viewed the available data concerning medical and toxicological aspects experienced and discovered before the prohibition of absinthe. Numerous studies did not give a clear answer whether the toxicity is due to thujone alone, to a combination of the alcohol and thujone or whether it can be traced back to toxic components used in the manufacture of absinthe liqueur [89,140]. ...
Full-text available
The genus Artemisia, often known collectively as “wormwood”, has aroused great interest in the scientific community, pharmaceutical and food industries, generating many studies on the most varied aspects of these plants. In this review, the most recent evidence on health effects of edible Artemisia species and some of its constituents are presented and discussed, based on studies published until 2020, available in the Scopus, Web of Sciences and PubMed databases, related to food applications, nutritional and sesquiterpene lactones composition, and their therapeutic effects supported by in vivo and clinical studies. The analysis of more than 300 selected articles highlights the beneficial effect on health and the high clinical relevance of several Artemisia species besides some sesquiterpene lactones constituents and their derivatives. From an integrated perspective, as it includes therapeutic and nutritional properties, without ignoring some adverse effects described in the literature, this review shows the great potential of Artemisia plants and some of their constituents as dietary supplements, functional foods and as the source of new, more efficient, and safe medicines. Despite all the benefits demonstrated, some gaps need to be filled, mainly related to the use of raw Artemisia extracts, such as its standardization and clinical trials on adverse effects and its health care efficacy.
... The wormwood mentioned in Revelations 8:11 appears as "Apsinthos" in the Greek version. Padosch et al. [133] commented: "The Greek equivalent to "Apsinthos" is used as a name for a star that fell into the waters and turned them bitter. The Greek word "Apsinthion"-undrinkable-is most probably the ancestor of the word "absinthe." ...
... The Greek word "Apsinthion"-undrinkable-is most probably the ancestor of the word "absinthe." The Talmud (Abodah Zara 30a) mentions preparing a special "Apsintin wine," which is still produced today [133]. Thus, we prefer to treat "La'ana" as Artemisia spp., especially A. herba alba, which is known as a common medicinal plant in the Middle East and North Africa [134][135][136]. ...
Full-text available
Background: Previous lists number from 55 to 176 plant species as "Biblical Medicinal Plants." Modern studies attest that many names on these lists are no longer valid. This situation arose due to old mistranslations and/or mistakes in botanical identification. Many previously recognized Biblical plants are in no way related to the flora of the Bible lands. Accordingly, the list needs revision. Methods: We re-examine the list of possible medicinal plants in the Bible based on new studies in Hebrew Biblical philology and etymology, new studies on the Egyptian and Mesopotamian medicinal use of plants, on ethnobotany and on archaeobotany. Results: In our survey, we suggest reducing this list to 45 plant species. Our contribution comprises 20 "newly" suggested Biblical Medicinal Plants. Only five species are mentioned directly as medicinal plants in the Bible: Fig (Ficus carica), Nard (Nardostachys jatamansi), Hyssop (Origanum syriacum), balm of Gilead (Commiphora gileadensis) and Mandrake (Mandragora officinarum). No fewer than 18 medicinal plants are mentioned in old Jewish post-Biblical sources, in addition to those in the Bible. Most of these plants (15) are known also in Egypt and Mesopotamia while three are from Egypt only. Seven of our suggested species are not mentioned in the Bible or in the Jewish post-Biblical literature but were recorded as medicinal plants from Egypt, as well as from Mesopotamia. It is quite logical to assume that they can be included as Biblical Medicinal Plants. Conclusions: All our suggested Biblical Medicinal Plants are known as such in Ancient Egypt and/or Mesopotamia also. Examination of our list shows that all these plants have been in continuous medicinal use in the Middle East down the generations, as well as being used in the Holy Land today. Precisely in King Solomon's words, "That which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done. And there is nothing new under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
... One of the oldest texts describing the use of beer is the Epic of Gilgamesh, in which the wild man Enkidu becomes a man by drinking beer, eating bread, and having sex, later he meets the goddess of fermentation Siduri who convinces him to enjoy earthly pleasures. Alcohol helps humans to connect with gods, via altered states of consciousness (especially when adding hallucinogenic or slightly poisonous substances such as Hyoscammus niger or Artemisia absinthium) and serves to worship deities (Long et al., 2000;Padosch et al., 2006). ...
In 2017, a luxury bronze bucket was discovered near Kladina village in the Czech Republic. The bucket is dated to the 9th century BC and it is a unique artefact, having no parallel in Europe. Stylistically, it is a "transition type" dated between the Late Bronze Age (11th–10th century BC) and the Hallstatt Period (8th–6th century BC). Detailed palynological analysis of verdigris and soil infill of the bucket identified a wide range of pollen grains belonging mainly to herbs, with bitter‐sour properties, and cereals. Subsequent chemical analysis, by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry, of soil extracts revealed the presence of the compound miliacin that is a chemical marker of millet. Moreover, a starch analysis reveals the presence of enzymatically modified starch grains. These data, with the help of archaeological knowledge, indicate that the original content may have been millet‐based food/beverage with addition of herbs. We suggest that this luxury vessel, given the contents we have identified, was deposited, in the late spring/summer months of the year.
... It has also been portrayed as a dangerously addictive psychoactive drug and hallucinogen. 7 It is still presumed that one can see singing and dancing beautiful green fairy after the intake of absinthe (Fig. 2). Owing to this presumption, absinthe is affectionately referred as "la fee verte" means 'the green fairy' in French translation 8 and the term 'Absinthism' is generally used to describe its state as alcoholism characterized by delirium, hallucinations, tremors and seizures. ...
Full-text available
Absinthe" a strong aromatic green coloured alcoholic beverage with addictive, psychotropic and hallucinogenic properties has been the most popular and intriguing intoxicant since 19 th century. Owing to its apparent illusive perception it was named "la fe′e verte" a French word means "the green fairy". It was condemned for inducing insane and criminal act and was also stigmatised as madness in a bottle. Later, owing to detection of psychedelic ingredient 'thujone', the absinthe remained banned for 95 years; however, its fame ride over the suppleness in laws and in 2007, it was reintroduced with varying concentration of thujone laced with harmful flavouring additives. The avaricious manufactures have been lucratively selling absinthes without printing its chemical composition on the bottle labels by taking advantage of loopholes in govt. policies. The government agencies remain focused on lowering the concentration of thujone in "green fairy" than publishing the harmful effects of its flavouring additives. To unequivocally establish a technique for the detection of harmful flavouring additives in absinthe remained a scientific challenge for decades. Henceforth, we attempted to analyse samples of popular foreign liquor brand "Paranasse Absinth" by GC-MS technique. Our research outcome led to successful chemical profiling of absinthe by detection of multiple flavouring additives viz. maltose, sucrose, anethole and methyl ethyl ketone. Amongst the detected additives, anethole is toxic, irritant, estrogenic and cytotoxic; methyl ethyl ketone is irritant, allergic, causes dizziness, cancer hazard and reproductive hazard, effect respiratory tract and CNS. Moreover, these two additives can also act as chemical precursors of Narcotic Drug and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS). Hence, through this research an effort is made to secure public health and to alert the private/govt. agencies regarding these health/immunity hazardous alcoholic beverage with high alcohol content and flavouring additives especially in COVID-19 pandemic. Our research outcome will attribute a legal check in the uncontrolled trade of potentially unsafe herbal beverages such as absinthe.
... Figure 1 shows the aerial parts and flower of A. absinthium. [5,6]. ...
Full-text available
Plants have been used since ancient times to cure certain infectious diseases, and some of them are now standard treatments for several diseases. Due to the side effects and resistance of pathogenic microorganisms to antibiotics and most drugs on the market, a great deal of attention has been paid to extracts and biologically active compounds isolated from plant species used in herbal medicine. Artemisia absinthium is an important perennial shrubby plant that has been widely used for the treatment of several ailments. Traditionally, A. absinthium has always been of pharmaceutical and botanical importance and used to manage several disorders including hepatocyte enlargement, hepatitis, gastritis, jaundice, wound healing, splenomegaly, dyspepsia, indigestion, flatulence, gastric pain, anemia, and anorexia. It has also been documented to possess antioxidant, antifungal, antimicrobial, anthelmintic, anti-ulcer, anticarcinogenic, hepatoprotective, neuroprotective, antidepressant, analgesic, immunomodulatory, and cytotoxic activity. Long-term use of A. absinthium essential oil may cause toxic and mental disorders in humans with clinical manifestations including convulsions, sleeplessness, and hallucinations. Combination chemotherapies of artemisia extract or its isolated active constituents with the currently available antibabesial or anti-malarial drugs are now documented to relieve malaria and piroplasmosis infections. The current review examines the phytoconstituents, toxic and biological activities of A. absinthium.
... As for the potential benefits and/or harms of thujone, we should mention the special history of wormwood, which is connected to absinth, a popular strong spirit aromatised by Artemisia absinthium. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the production of absinth was prohibited in several countries as its consumption was associated with a range of severe adverse symptoms called absinthism, including convulsions, blindness, hallucinations and mental deterioration (Lachenmeier et al. 2006a;Padosch et al. 2006). There are even some detailed cases reported in the literature from the very early times until recently. ...
Full-text available
Thujone is a volatile monoterpene ketone of plant origin which is produced by several plants that are frequently used for flavoring foods and beverages. The use of thujone and thujone-containing plant parts for human consumption is currently regulated by the European Parliament and Council and the European Medicines Agency. The best known neurotoxic effects are connected to the GABA-gated chloride channel, where α-thujone is a modulator roughly two to three times as potent as the β isomer. Based primarily on in vitro experiments, genotoxicity and carcinogenic properties of thujones have also been detected in parallel with antimutagenic and immune-modulatory effects. Some of the controversial effects seem to be strongly dose-dependent. Data on antidiabetic and antimicrobial activities of thujones may show new ways to use them. This review also describes the main steps of the biosynthetic route of thujones and their occurrence in the plant kingdom. The accumulation of these compounds seems to be more abundant in some plant families (e.g. Asteraceae or Cupressaceae) than in others. Four species (Artemisia absinthium, Salvia officinalis, Tanacetum vulgare, Thuja occidentalis), characterised by a large intraspecific chemical variability, have been evaluated in detail from chemotaxonomical aspects. Experimental results show that the phenotypic manifestation and quantity of thujones in the essential oils depend on the plant organ and its developmental phase. Besides, weather conditions and growth habitat might also influence the ratios, as well as the possibly unique responses of the individual species. Unfortunately, comparison and an exact evaluation of the references is hampered by very diverse methods of treatment and analysis; sometimes reliability itself seems questionable. In order to optimise the safe use of thujone-containing preparations, it would be necessary to do further systematic studies from the plant biological, toxicological and pharmaco-kinetic points of view.
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Artemisia absinthium—wormwood (Asteraceae)—is a very important species in the history of medicine, formerly described in medieval Europe as “the most important master against all exhaustions”. It is a species known as a medicinal plant in Europe and also in West Asia and North America. The raw material obtained from this species is Absinthii herba and Artemisiae absinthii aetheroleum. The main substances responsible for the biological activity of the herb are: the essential oil, bitter sesquiterpenoid lactones, flavonoids, other bitterness-imparting compounds, azulenes, phenolic acids, tannins and lignans. In the official European medicine, the species is used in both allopathy and homeopathy. In the traditional Asian and European medicine, it has been used as an effective agent in gastrointestinal ailments and also in the treatment of helminthiasis, anaemia, insomnia, bladder diseases, difficult-to-heal wounds, and fever. Today, numerous other directions of biological activity of the components of this species have been demonstrated and confirmed by scientific research, such as antiprotozoal, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-ulcer, hepatoprotective, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, cytotoxic, analgesic, neuroprotective, anti-depressant, procognitive, neurotrophic, and cell membrane stabilizing and antioxidant activities. A. absinthium is also making a successful career as a cosmetic plant. In addition, the importance of this species as a spice plant and valuable additive in the alcohol industry (famous absinthe and vermouth-type wines) has not decreased. The species has also become an object of biotechnological research.
All meanings of the word glossolalia (from the Greek words glossa, meaning tongue or language, and laleō, meaning to speak, talk, chat, or to make a sound) raise a knowing smile because they can be applied to what happens with words that circulate in design discourse. Since color is intrinsic to the creation of any design product and is essential in the recognition, perception and communication process, it determines the semantics of a given object in whatever form concerns the ‘design object’. In establishing the meanings of color, the aspects addressed encompass a broad gamut that includes neurology, vision and illumination and the interactions between light and color in understanding the nature of design at stake and the cultural context. At a more detailed scale, a multidisciplinary approach to color allows other qualities to be addressed, including those produced by variations in surface and materiality, elements of composition, psycho-physiological effects of both color and light, synaesthetic reactions to color, communication variables, color terminology, aesthetics of color, as well as color’s historical and cultural background. In this article, I will discuss some aspects related to GREEN in Western European culture. From paintings to fashion and product design, GREEN suggests, among many other things, creativity, but also a certain kind of consciousness. The word GREEN also circulates in common discourse, sometimes as a noun, sometimes as an adjective, and sometimes in idiomatic expressions. Given the vastness of contexts in which GREEN is used, I will focus on some aspects of its meanings in Western European culture, as it is impossible to remove from the material and immaterial culture the symbolic force that results from being GREEN.
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No one can deny that the beverage known as “absinthe” has a sinister reputation. It has been implicated in the deaths of many celebrities from the second half of the 1800s up until the present. But was absinthe the culprit? In this paper the authors describe their discovery of the plant that imparts the special bitterness to absinthe, and consider the likely explanations for it occurring in a monastery garden in a remote part of the Velay, an old province today part of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Region of France. As no strictly applicable botanical indicators were discovered on the plants (flowers, fruits, etc.), the authors proceed to examine the possibility of identifying their specimens through a review of the known uses of the plants. The various uses of each species of the Artemisia family that are found in the region are discussed, along with the likelihood of each of these species being cultivated during the eighteenth century in an enclosed monastery garden. A short section offers an explanation for the undeserved reputation of the bittering herbs of the Artemisia family and provides a brief comment on the associated alcoholism that has proved destructive to excess consumption of absinthe. Finally, a seemingly satisfactory identification of the monastery herb is offered. Various botanical appendices are included to assist in clarifying some of the complexity of botanical nomenclature for the huge plant genus known as Artemisia (that includes sagebrush!).
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By use of 13CNM R, GC and GC-MS analysis, 60 compounds, mainly mono-and sesquiterpenes, were identified structurally from the essential oil of Artemisia absinthium L. The specific appli­ cation of 13CNMR spectroscopy enabled the structure elucidation of the components. Actually for the first time trans-sabinylacetate could be identified in the essential oil from Artemisia absinthium; it even represents a main component of the oil.
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Absinthe is a spirit drink with a certain bitter taste, which should origin from the bitter substances of the wormwood plant (Artemisia absinthium L). In this study, besides the principal component thujone, further characteristic components of the essential oil of wormwood are determined in absinthe and the analysis results are interpreted using multivariate statistics to authenticate the spirit drink. An efficient sample preparation using solid-phase extraction (SPE) was performed to separate the lipophilic terpenes from the alcoholic spirit matrix. Gas chromatography in combination with mass spectrometry (GC/MS) was used for separation and quantification of the analytes. The PCA scores plot of 70 absinthes showed discrimination between high-quality absinthes, which were manufactured by distillation of wormwood, and such of inferior quality, made by using small portions of wormwood extracts, macerates, oils or totally without wormwood. Quantitatively determined, 6 absinthes had a thujone content of less than 2 mg/l and in 35 products no thujone was detectable at all. In addition, the typically wormwood taste was missing and the products belonged to the inferior category "without wormwood content". The la belling of the products as "absinthe" was considered to be a deception of the consumer. Summarized, absinthe raises fewer problems in health protection than in the protection of the consumer from deception. Due to extensive control measurements of the official food control in the last years, the maximum limit of thujone is observed by all products. However, due to missing legal requirements on absinthe, a legal uncertainty exists utilised by many manufacturers selling deteriorated products.
Absinthe has always had an ambivalent history, praised on the one hand as 'The Green Muse' by its devotees, while condemned on the other by it detractors as a cause of madness and moral degeneracy. But is there any scientific or medical basis for either position?