2.3 Absinthe FAQ pointer.

Botanical name: 

Photo: Artemisia absinthium 10. La Fee Verte has a FAQ on absinthe: http://www.feeverte.net/faq-absinthe.html

And there's an absinthe FAQ in the erowid vaults: https://www.erowid.org/chemicals/absinthe/absinthe_faq.shtml

I put this on top of the absinthe entry of this FAQ long ago: "Be warned - thujone IS dangerous, no matter what that FAQ says."

This sparked some debate, which follows.

2.3.1 More on Absinthe

Dale Kemery wrote
>I've been puzzled by absinthe for a long time. My recent reading has only intensified my curiosity. Is/was absinthe a true psychedelic beverage? Or what were/are its effects? For a long time I relied on the traditional reports about absinthe turning the brain to mush.
>However, considering the hysterical disinformation campaign of Howard Anslinger aimed against marijuana, I've become very suspicious of any official strictures. What *is* the story about wormwood/absinthe?
>Where can I learn more?

From christopher.gn.apc.org (Christopher Hedley):

This is from R.F.Weiss, Herbal Medicine. Weiss was an MD who taught herbal medicine in medical schools in Germany, so I suppose he counts as fairly impartial and reliable:

"The plant contains 0.25-0.5% of a volatile oil the main constituent of which is thujone as well as bitters. The bitter action predominates. Wormwood is a typical aromatic bitter. The volatile oil is remarkably effective against worms. It is however toxic, whilst the bitter principle is largely non-toxic. Absinthe is made with wormwood oil, but in Germany its manufacture has been banned since 1923. The usual wormwood preparations contain so little of the oil that there is no risk of toxic effect. In some Mediterranean countries, where absinthe is consumed in large quantities, the seriously damaging effects on the central nervous system which have given the plant its bad name may develop and even lead to seizures. This shows that wormwood also has central stimulant properties that are no doubt of benefit in the small quantities normally used.

Wormwood herb, for tea, 1 teaspoon to a glass of boiling water, leave to infuse for 10 minutes.

Wormwood tincture. 10-20-30 drops three times daily in water."

Comment; so the story is the same one as coffee, i.e. abuse/overuse of a perfectly good and useful herb.

Wormwood is Artemisia absinthium, it is used a lot in aperitif wines and spirits in Europe, but only in small amounts or it dominates the taste.

It is mostly used for intestinal parasites, 'weak digestion', liver and gall bladder troubles and as an emmenagogue. I always recommend it as a prophylactic for folk traveling to hot countries, 15 drops of tincture three times daily usually does the trick. The American spp of Artemisia, incl. sagebrush and mugwort, have pretty much the same properties.

- No Artemisias should be taken during pregnancy.

I trust this is useful info. Christopher Hedley

From Howie Brounstein <howieb.teleport.com>:

>>Be warned - thujone IS dangerous, no matter what that FAQ says.

The reason this line is attached to the Absinthe Pointer is because the Absinthe FAQ is slanted.

Most sources say that long term use of Absinthe is dangerous and debilitating. I was under the impression that many people became addicted to it and suffered mental and physical deterioration, thus it became outlawed. I would stress that this is long term use. Wormwood, Artemisia absinthium is pretty nasty stuff, you would have to drink a lot of tea to feel its narcotic like effects, but by then you'd be retching from its foul taste. Of course, you could try to hide the flavor with other stuff ... thus Absinthe.

Personally, I don't like it, don't feel its worth the havoc on your body for the effect. I like the smell of it, and would keep it around for that. The Absinthe FAQ, however, takes the point that it may be harmless, that the debility was caused by alcohol addiction, or Absinthe impurities, and a marihuana - like political scare tactics. I am not sure what to make of it, but the warning does remain that thujone is dangerous when taken in large enough quantities, and that the Absinthe of history did hurt a generation of people no matter what the specifics.

>If thujone is so dangerous, what are we to make of it as the primary constituent of Artemisia? Are we endangering ourselves whenever we inhale it?

Firstly, the chemistries of Artemisia absinthium and Mugwort, Artemisia vulgaris or douglasiana are different. Some of the contraindications are different; the uses are different; their histories are different. Also, it may be a bit premature to say that one chemical, thujone, is THE active ingredient in either. That would be a bit too reductionist for my tastes. We can't even assume that because a plant contains some small amount of a poison, that the plant is poisonous, or we'd have to give up onions, spinach, mustard. The difference between food and poison is often dosage; the difference between poison and medicine is dosage. So let's focus on thujone. A brief list of plants containing thujone includes:

Salvia officinalis L. - Sage (Leaf)
Salvia triloba L. - Greek Sage (Plant)
Artemisia dracunculus L. - Tarragon (Shoot)
Mentha x rotundifolia (L.) HUDSON - Applemint (Leaf)
Pycnanthemum tenuifolium SCHRAD. - Slenderleaf Mountain Mint (Shoot)
Mentha pulegium L. - European Pennyroyal (Plant)
Thymus orospedanus H. del VILLAR - Orosped Thyme (Plant)
Achillea millefolium L. - Yarrow (Plant)
Capsicum frutescens L. - Cayenne (Fruit)
Carum carvi L. - Caraway (Fruit)
Glycyrrhiza glabra L. - Licorice (Root)
Juniperus sabina L. - Sabine (Plant)
Matricaria recutita L. - Annual Chamomile (Plant)
Mentha arvensis L. - Cornmint (Plant)
Sassafras albidum (NUTT.) NEES - Sassafras (Root)
Satureja hortensis L. - Summer Savory (Plant)

This list, and others like it is available free from the Phytochemical databases - http://www.ars-grin.gov/duke/ .

So as you can see, many plants that are very safe (in normal dosages) contain this chemical. So smell your Mugwort, drink Mugwort tea, smoke it, smear the juice all over your body on a vision-dream quest, just don't extract pure thujone from it and snort it.

>Someone on another list suggested smoking Artemisia because there's a strong connection with marijuana --both affect the same (or similar) receptors in the brain, and are apparently similar botanically (I don't know what that means technically). Additionally, a book called *Absinthe, History in a Bottle* by Barnaby Conrad III mentions thujone-enol's structural similarity to THC.

Smoking Artemisias? Hmm, for me Mugwort is a flavor, used in small amounts as not to be too overwhelming. Kind of mentholly. Or perhaps for it's dreaming effects. But once again folks are implying a generalization: This one constituent (or group of constituents) is shaped like THC, and perhaps affects the same receptor sites as THC, so it must make you feel like you smoked THC. Oops, flawed logic again. Just because the shape of two molecules are similar doesn't mean that they have similar biological effects.

They might, but its not guaranteed. My take on this: Ingesting Mugwort, or any Artemisia I've tasted, does not make you feel like you've ingested Marihuana.

So enjoy the smells, drown your concerns, and a happy, aromatic holiday season to all you netters out there.

Howie Brounstein

From Dale Kemery, DalePK.aol.com, to above:

I thought you might be interested in more complete information about absinthe, wormwood and thujone, after our recent exchange on the subject. I've come across a comprehensive summary about it in Jonathan Ott's superb "Pharmacotheon." (Although using his name with any glowing adjective is redundant because everything I've seen of his is so complete, exhaustive and thoroughly researched and studied.)

"Absinthe was prepared by distilling alcohol over mashed leaves of wormwood, and other common ingredients were Angelica root, Acorus calamus rhizome (which may contain the psychoactive asarones; ...), cinnamon, fennel seed, star anise (both of which contain anethole, another potentially psychoactive compound...) and other plants. The characteristic and much-desired green color of the liqueur, which was supposed to whiten when mixed with water, was sometimes artificially enhanced by addition of indigo and other plants, or toxic metal salts like copper sulfate and antimony chloride...

He chronicles the history of the banning of absinthe and a recent renewal of interest in absinthe, then says:

"It is commonly assumed that the thujones were the neurotoxic principles of absinthe, although alcohol also is a potent neurotoxin (absinthe contained from 68-85% alcohol) and significant quantities of copper and antimony salts used as adulterants (particularly in cheap imitation absinthe for the poorer classes) may have been present and responsible for the neurotoxicity...While large doses of injected thujones are unquestionably toxic, modern toxicological studies of thujones, in the quantities present in absinthe, without the copper and antimony adulterants, are needed before concluding that the neurotoxicity associated with absinthism was a consequence of thujone content. I suspect the copper and antimony salts, as well as the unusually high alcohol content had more to do with absinthe toxicity than the thujone content. Non-thujone essential oils commonly present in absinthe have also been shown to have convulsant properties and are probably neurotoxic."

The obvious inference is that thujone is unlikely the culprit in "absinthism." And even though he acknowledges the toxicity of "large doses of injected thujones," the operative words are "large" and "injected." It may be assumed (without any evidence to support this statement) that swallowing thujone in some form (tea, for example) would subject it to the chemical rigors of digestion, a pathway that is much different from intravenous or even intramuscular injection. Whether the same can be said for, say, smoking a thujone-containing plant is another matter since inhalation effectuates a much more direct transfer into the blood without the intervention of hydrochloric acid, pepsin and other digestive enzymes.

From christopher.gn.apc.org (Christopher Hedley):

A note.. Sage (Salvia officinalis) essential oil is 30% thujone and good sage has up to 2.5% essential oil. Wormwood contains 1% essential oil, I don't have a figure on the % of thujone but if we assume it to be less than half then it is possible to consume more thujone in Sage tea than in Wormwood tea and no one has suggested that long term use of sage is toxic.

Distilling alcohol over Wormwood would extract mostly the volatile oil. Weiss says that the pure volatile oil was also used in the making of absinthe - this is still an ingrained habit in food and drink manufacture and one that should be condemned. Flavouring with volatile oils is NOT the same as flavouring with plants.

Thujone has been given bad press but I still don't think that consuming large amounts of volatile oil for long periods has anything to recommend it. Also the thujone has strong stimulating effects, noticeable when smoking wormwood - which as Howie says is nothing like smoking Mugwort. Presumably absinthe had the same degree of stimulation and thus people were encouraged to drink more and abuse it.

The comparison between thujone and THC is an interesting example of just how far theory can lead people astray. Always try for yourself I say.

From Howie Brounstein <howieb.teleport.com>:

> Also the thujone has strong stimulating effects, noticeable when smoking wormwood- which as Howie says is nothing like smoking Mugwort. Presumably absinthe had the same degree of stimulation and thus people were encouraged to drink more and abuse it.

Hmmm. Did I say that. Oh yes, so I did. It is hard to put into words. Mugwort can be used like Wormwood for worms, warming, female reproductive system effects, and it has similar contra-indications. Yet wormwood has something else, a more overtly drugged feeling it produces that I have never experienced with other Artemisias. I don't know what chemical is responsible for it, it may be thujone unrelated, for all I know. But I know the feeling.

From: "Rob Miedema" <8rm1.qlink.queensu.ca>

Thujone does not in fact act like THC at all. That belief was founded on the observation that they have similar chemical structures, but was proven incorrect (Hold et al., 2000). Actually, it seems that thujone exacts its effects on GABA-A receptors in the brain. This is the same receptor that alcohol acts on, but the two chemicals have opposite effects. Therefore the balance between thujone and ethanol in the absinthe is critical. Thujone, or rather it's active metabolites (7-hydroxy-alpha-thujone, alpha-thujone), and other products in wormwood that steep into absinthe (e.g. camphor) are actually convulsants. They inhibit the brains inhibitory system causing overexcitation. Death in animals as large as cats and rabbits results from moderate doses and there are documented cases of death in humans (Burkhard et al., 1999). One person's statement that oral ingestion is not injection so it is probably fine is false, the thujone actually needs to be metabolized by the liver to break it down into its active components.

If you still want to try it here's one how-to, and a vivid description of the experience:

Best of the herbal forums: http://www.henriettes-herb.com/archives/best/1996/absinthe.html

From Stuart Cullen <stuartcullen.hotmail.com>

Just a little extra info from an experienced Absinthe drinker. I have drunk three different types of absinthe (two Portugese [50% and 58% alcohol by volume] and One Czech [55% by volume]) on innumerable occasions -- usually 4+ European shots a night.

In Portugal, to get its most extreme effect I was told to add sugar to the shot, light the absinthe, blow it out, drink it through a straw, cup my hand over the glass and inhale as much of the fumes as I could. I am sure this would be potent with any alcoholic drink. I have drunk stronger vodka [63% by volume] yet it has never had the effect of absinthe.

I have experienced one 'hallucination' -- I was once positively sure that a girl was dancing beside me for several minutes when there was no-one there. I have experienced numerous total blackouts from its usage. I am not an expert on herbs or a student of any related subject but absinth/e is a drug NOT an alcoholic drink (believe me).

An endnote from Henriette:

I'm told the "absinthe" recipes given above are completely off the wall. I'll believe that, because nobody in their right mind would ever call tincture, tea or even leaf of wormwood straight off the plant palatable.

Some say that wormwood has a nice "floral" scent. Yech, says I, because to me that "floral scent" is a thoroughly nauseating smell, which carries over into the taste if ingested. Urgh.

Wormwood is intensely bitter. Couple that bitterness with the revolting taste and you're set for something fit to give to your worst enemies, but not fit to serve at table.

On that note, I made about half a liter of wormwood tincture (1:5 45 %) years ago. Anybody over 18 (can't have kids getting drunk on this stuff) who drinks ½ dl (2 ounces) of that tincture in front of me (outdoors, please, with convenient bushes nearby) can have the whole bottle -- if they still want it after ingesting their half deciliter.