• monoterpene (like menthol or pulegone) that exists in two related forms, alpha and beta
  • present in a number of plants, most notably grand wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), a shrub native to Europe, Asia, and northern Africa that is used to make absinthe
    • also found in Salvia officinalis (sage), Salvia sclarea (clary), Tanacetum vulgaris (tansy) and members of the genus Juniperus (junipers)
    • absinthe ("green fairy" or "fée verte" for my French-speaking readers) is a highly alcoholic (damn straight!) emerald-green spirit that was arguably the most popular spirit drink in Europe in the late 19th century
      • French soldiers fighting in Algeria in the mid 19th century were given alcoholic drinks containing wormwood to protect them from infectious diseases and increase morale, leading to boom in the popularity of absinthe as they returned home having developed a taste for the stuff
      • although popular with all levels of society, was especially revered by the artists (see: Degas, van Gogh, Picasso) and intellectuals (Verlaine, Wilde, Poe, Hemingway)
      • was banned throughout Europe and North America in the early 20th century due to it being linked (often erroneously) to all sorts of diseases including a syndrome called "absinthism" that featured hallucinations, blindness, convulsions, general nuttiness, and even death
    • besides absinthe, the major dietary source of thujone is actually sage and sage-containing products
  • has a chemical structure that is similar to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) but it does not act on cannabinoid receptors
  • blocks GABA-A receptors, which normally keep the brain from becoming overactive by inhibiting neural activity, resulting in abnormal excitability (excitotoxicity) producing muscle spasms and convulsions
- Lachenmeier DW et al. Absinthe--a review. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2006;46(5):365-77.
- Rietjens IM et al. Molecular mechanisms of toxicity of important food-borne phytotoxins. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2005 Feb;49(2):131-58.

3 chemically inspired comments:

Oxygenee said...

Absinthe was not banned "throughout Europe" at the beginning of the 20th century. It was never banned at all in the UK, Denmark, Sweden, Spain and Portugal amongst other countries. It has been continually made and sold without interruption from the 19th century to the present day in Spain and Portugal.

You'll find more information on thujone, including copies or abstracts of all relevant scientific literature at www.thujone.info. You'll find detailed infrmation on the history and lore of absinthe at The Virtual Absinthe Museum, at www.oxygenee.com.

CND said...

Hey ox,

Yeah, you're right. I shouldn't have used the word 'throughout'. But a bunch of European countries did indeed ban it at that time.

Thanks for the correction.

Anonymous said...

Is Oxygenee a musueum or a web shop?

cnd is right it was banned in France, Switzerland, USA etc. It was becsuse of the thujone - those countries that the guy mentions probably didn't even drink it.