The Absinthe Enigma Resurgence of a Legendary Spirit
by Lux and Fire Erowid
As products called absinthe are once again being widely marketed, absinthe has shifted from obscure historical drink to chic epicurean beverage. Named after Artemisia absinthium (wormwood), its defining herbal ingredient, this spirit has a reputation for producing unique effects not attributable to its alcohol content alone. These effects are commonly attributed to thujone, a psychoactive chemical in wormwood, but new arguments have been proposed claiming that traditional absinthe contained little to no thujone. Some private and peer-reviewed research analyzing vintage bottles of absinthe and contemporary absinthe made from traditional recipes has found lower levels of thujone than expected, raising the question of whether nineteenthcentury absinthe ever contained active amounts.
Major media publications such as The New Yorker, The New York Times, and USA Today have brought public attention to this debate. The issue of thujone content is not only of scientific concern, but of commercial concern as well, since U.S. and European regulations set maximum values for thujone in absinthe. While some vendors emphasize high thujone levels as a selling point, others use the new theory, that absinthe originally had negligible amounts, to defend their low-thujone absinthe as authentic.
The following articles include a look at absinthe’s history, the current U.S. regulatory environment, and the complicated issue of thujone in wormwood and absinthe.