Thujone and absinthe are two words that you often hear together, but what is thujone? Quite simply it is a natural medicine, or as the French say a “sécrétée naturellement”, that is produced by real wormwood. Thujone protects the plant and is produced naturally in varying degrees depending on such factors as air quality, terrain and so forth. Wormwood grown in the mountains will produce more thujone than its counterpart down in the valleys.

Wormwood is a nervine tonic that nourishes the nervous system and, thus, eases stress and nervous disorders. As an herbal tranquilizer, the herb helps calm and soothe the nerves and reduces tension and anxiety. The herb’s absinthin content is a narcotic analgesic that affects the medullary portion of the brain concerned with anxiety and is said to induce a relaxed state.

What is the thujone effect?

Alcohol and thujone are basically the yin and the yang of absinthe, complementary opposites. Firstly, alcohol is a GABA agonist which stimulates the production of this neurotransmitter and can cause drowsiness and sleep. Most people know about this effect, if they have ever drunk alcohol! Secondly we have thujone which prevents alcohol from working in this way, thujone is a antagonist (i) Real wormwood absinthe is a ‘speedball’, the brew opens the GABA receptors, and simulatneously closes them. The effect on the drinker is quited marked, a form of lucidity of thought which has noting in common with a normal inebriated state. This unique effect is described using the metaphor “chasing the green fairy” A heighten sense of clarity and sensory awareness to color, touch and sound (many absinthe drinkers use a favourite piece of music as part of their ritual)

What is thujone free absinthe?

Absinthe that uses a chemotype of wormwood which produces no natural thujone, or removes the thujone by chemical extraction after the product is produced. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) regulation at 21 CFR 172.510 means that absinthe must be thujone free, hence the existence of this variety of absinthe. There are also other varieties which which Southern Wormwood which is non thujone bearing. Real absinthe is made using Artemisia Absinthium (grande wormwood) and traditionally the best plant are grown at high elevation and are thujone rich.

How much thujone was there / is there in absinthe?

According to Professor W. Arnold, Biochemist at The University of Kansas, the level of thujone in old absinthe was approx 280 mg/l. The modern day absinthe industry has tried to suggest otherwise by testing old bottles from the era immeadiately preceding the ban – post 1900. Most recently Professor MJ Eadie has pointed out that these bottles were not from the period 1870, and it is the case that Arnold remains the most reliable source.

But the biggest controversy surrounding the liquor–once dubbed “one of the worst enemies of man”–is about not its resurgence but rather its authenticity. Enthusiasts claim the thujone-free brands, which contain less than 10 parts per million (p.p.m.) of the chemical, are made with the same relatively small amounts of thujone as the old brews. But scientists wrote in the British Medical Journal that absinthe bottled before 1900 packed up to 260 p.p.m. of thujone–which may not sound like much, but consider that only 15 parts per billion of lead in drinking water is enough to scare regulators. “They are playing pretend,” study co-author Wilfred Arnold says of the liquor’s new cheerleaders. “It is nothing like the old stuff.” Time Magazine

Absinthe in the United States must test thujone free. In Europe the level is set at 35mg/l for absinthes that bear the Amer classification. Elsewhere it is possible to purchase absinthes with higher thujone levels.

(i)Absinthe: attention performance and mood under the influence of thujone. Dettling A, Grass H, Schuff A, Skopp G, Strohbeck-Kuehner P, Haffner HT. Institute of Forensic and Traffic Medicine, University of Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany.

CONCLUSIONS: As they are apparently opposed to the effect of alcohol, the reactions observed here can be explained by the antagonistic effect of thujone on the gamma-aminobutyric acid receptor. Similar alterations were observed for the other mood state dimensions examined.

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