Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Absinthe Uncorked: The 'Green Fairy' Was Boozy -- But Not Psychedelic

Date:
May 4, 2008
Source:
American Chemical Society
Summary:
A new study may end the century-old controversy over what ingredient in absinthe caused the exotic green aperitif's supposed mind-altering effects and toxic side-effects when consumed to excess. The report is the most comprehensive analysis of authentic 19th century absinthe to date.

Albert Maignan's painting of "Green Muse" (1895) shows a poet succumbing to absinthe's mind-altering effects.
Credit: Courtesy of the Musée de Picardie, Amiens

A new study may end the century-old controversy over what ingredient in absinthe caused the exotic green aperitif's supposed mind-altering effects and toxic side-effects when consumed to excess. In the most comprehensive analysis of old bottles of original absinthe -- once quaffed by the likes of van Gogh, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec and Picasso to enhance their creativity -- a team of scientists from Europe and the United States have concluded the culprit was plain and simple: A high alcohol content, rather than thujone, the compound widely believed responsible for absinthe's effects. Although consumed diluted with water, absinthe contained about 70 percent alcohol, giving it a 140-proof wallop. Most gin, vodka, and whiskey are 80 -- 100-proof and contain 40-50 percent alcohol or ethanol.

Absinthe took on legendary status in late 19th-Century Paris among bohemian artists and writers. They believed it expanded consciousness with psychedelic effects and called it "the Green Fairy" and "the Green Muse." The drink's popularity spread through Europe and to the United States. However, illness and violent episodes among drinkers gave absinthe the reputation as a dangerous drug, and it was banned in Europe and elsewhere.

In the new study, Dirk W. Lachenmeier and colleagues point out that scientists know very little about the composition of the original absinthe produced in France before that country banned the drink in 1915. Only a single study had analyzed one sample of preban absinthe. The researchers analyzed 13 samples of preban absinthe from sealed bottles -- "the first time that such a wide ranging analysis of absinthe from the preban era has been attempted," they say.

The analysis included thujone, widely regarded as the "active" ingredient in absinthe. "It is certainly at the root of absinthe's reputation as being more drug than drink," according to Lachenmeier. Thujone was blamed for "absinthe madness" and "absinthism," a collection of symptoms including hallucinations, facial contractions, numbness, and dementia.

However, the study found relatively small concentrations of thujone, amounts less than previously estimated and not sufficient to explain absinthism. Thujone levels in preban absinthe actually were about the same as those in modern absinthe, produced since 1988, when the European Union (EU) lifted its ban on absinthe production. Laboratory tests found no other compound that could explain absinthe's effects. "All things considered, nothing besides ethanol was found in the absinthes that was able to explain the syndrome of absinthism," according to Lachenmeier.

He says that scientific data cannot explain preban absinthe's reputation as a psychedelic substance. Recent historical research on absinthism concluded that the condition probably was alcoholism, Lachenmeier indicates.

"Today it seems a substantial minority of consumers want these myths to be true, even if there is no empirical evidence that they are," says Lachenmeier. "It is hoped that this paper will go some way to refute at least the first of these myths, conclusively demonstrating that the thujone content of a representative selection of preban absinthe... fell within the modern EU limit."

The study "Chemical Composition of vintage Preban Absinthe with Special Reference to Thujone, Fenchone, Pinocamphone, Methanol, Copper, and Antimony Concentrations" is scheduled for the May 14, 2008 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by American Chemical Society. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

American Chemical Society. "Absinthe Uncorked: The 'Green Fairy' Was Boozy -- But Not Psychedelic." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 May 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080429120905.htm>.
American Chemical Society. (2008, May 4). Absinthe Uncorked: The 'Green Fairy' Was Boozy -- But Not Psychedelic. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080429120905.htm
American Chemical Society. "Absinthe Uncorked: The 'Green Fairy' Was Boozy -- But Not Psychedelic." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080429120905.htm (accessed April 20, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Study On Artists' Brain Shows They're 'Structurally Unique'

Study On Artists' Brain Shows They're 'Structurally Unique'

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2014) — The brains of artists aren't really left-brain or right-brain, but rather have extra neural matter in visual and motor control areas. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Is Apathy A Sign Of A Shrinking Brain?

Is Apathy A Sign Of A Shrinking Brain?

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2014) — A recent study links apathetic feelings to a smaller brain. Researchers say the results indicate a need for apathy screening for at-risk seniors. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Are School Dress Codes Too Strict?

Are School Dress Codes Too Strict?

AP (Apr. 16, 2014) — Pushing the limits on style and self-expression is a rite of passage for teens and even younger kids. How far should schools go with their dress codes? The courts have sided with schools in an era when school safety is paramount. (April 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Even Casual Marijuana Use Alter Your Brain?

Could Even Casual Marijuana Use Alter Your Brain?

Newsy (Apr. 16, 2014) — A new study conducted by researchers at Northwestern and Harvard suggests even casual marijuana use can alter your brain. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins