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Science & Technology

May 5, 2008
Volume 86, Number 18
pp. 42-43

Absinthe Myths Finally Laid To Rest

Vintage samples of the notorious alcoholic drink don't contain high levels of psychoactive compound

Stephen K. Ritter

POPULAR LORE HAS IT that absinthe, the potent wormwood-flavored alcohol, causes hallucinations, epileptic-like attacks, and bouts of madness for those who drink it. Scientists studying absinthe in recent years have shown that modern versions of the spirit contain too little thujone, the key psychoactive chemical present in the wormwood herb, Artemisia absinthium, to cause the reported psychedelic effects. But the myths about absinthe being more drug than drink persist in part because of century-old tales about famous artists and writers who heavily imbibed absinthe and vacillated between periods of high creativity and insanity.

Courtesy of Dirk Lachenmeier
Myths Busted A vintage absinthe, tinged brown with age, contains very little thujone.

An international research team led by food chemist Dirk W. Lachenmeier of the German government's Chemical & Veterinary Investigation Laboratory, in Karlsruhe, now offers once-and-for-all evidence that thujone indeed is not the culprit behind those effects (J. Agric. Food Chem., DOI: 10.1021/jf703568f).

The researchers, including David Nathan-Maister of vintage absinthe specialist Oxygénée, in Burgess Hill,