you seem to lose your feet, and you mount to a boundless realm without horizon. You probably imagine that you are going in the direction of the infinite, whereas you are simply drifting into the incoherent. Absinthe affects the brain unlike any other stimulant ; it produces neither the heavy drunkenness of beer, the furious inebriation of brandy;- nor the exhilarant intoxication of wine. (Pall Mall Gazette)

Absinthe effects have been celebrated and demonised since the mid 1800s. Modern day absinthe manufacturers are wary of discussing effect and often use the term “secondaries” The reason for this is beady eye of regulators who do not look favourably on products which produce a euphoric effect. That does not mean that the absinthe effect does not exist though!

A few absinthe experts, like Paul Nathan and Paul Owens authors of “The Little Green Book of Abinthe” are prepared to acknowledge the obvious. Their description is pretty telling

We find that drinking other liquors is like walking a tightrope, whereas drinking absinthe opens up a nice, wide path

It should come as no surprise that ale made with wormwood, known as purl, and popular in 17th century England was noted as

more intoxicating than other ales, this effect has been improperly attributed to its volatile parts, but Dr. C. places it to the account of its narcotic power (The Medical and Physical Journal)

In the 19th century it was understood that the effects of absinthe are actually to “the mode of emulsion” (i.e the louche) and “taken undiluted, the tincture of wormwood produces none of its customary results” More recently celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal quipped “I’ve got no hallucinations yet,but I always think bananas taste better with three-legged cows in a vegetable shop.” A surreal statement worthy of playwright Alfred Jarry who claimed rational intelligence was inferior to hallucinations and relied on his absinthe to ensure a steady supply!

So, what is the absinthe effect? I can only suggest that you drink a glass to find out. But one question that is often raised is that of the other herbal and botanical constituents that exist in real absinthe, are these responsible for the absinthe effect? Here is a quick overview:

Anise is one of the main participants in an absinthe brew, in high doses it can induce drunkenness and sleep. Anise seed, just like fennel, another absinthe herb, contains the psychoactive anethole. Angelica root is cultivated as a drug in Lapland. Calamus has psychoactive properties due to asarones, and is even used as an drug by Native Americans. What is more coriander and fennel was thought by some to conjure up the devil!

The conclusion? There may be some truth in the absinthe effect being a “highly-complex synergistic effect of a psychoactive cocktail” But UC Berkeley researchers Karin Hold, Nilantha Sirisoma, Tomoko Ikeda, Toshio Narahashi and John Casida, proved in 2000 that alpha-thujone affects a brain receptor that regulates excitation! So searching for another reason seems to be more to do with denying the thujone effect, beacuse of the United States regulation than anything else.

Do absinthes with different herbal recipes have different effect? Answer: Yes
Do absinthes with no thujone have an effect? Answer: No

Here is a superbly written description of the absinthe effect:

I understand how the effect can be described as an hallucination. But that’s not a precisely correct description. It is, as has been described elsewhere, more of a clear-headedness; a clarity of not only vision, but thought. Perceptions seem to be sharpened. While you might not be hallucinating images that aren’t there, the images that are there seem to be somehow enhanced — more vibrant. It’s very much a hyper-aware altered state of inebriation.

A layman’s explanation for what the scientists proved in 2000!

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