Sepulchritude Forum: The Absinthe Forum Archives Thru July 2001: Topics Archived Thru Oct 2000:Effects
By Perruche_verte on Sunday, October 29, 2000 - 10:16 pm: Edit

So it's sort of like those writers who try to prove that vampire legends are really a way of explaining the effects of porphyria. Begin with a folkloric "effect" which you accept more or less uncritically, and then hunt for a "cause"... doesn't sound like science to me, but what do I know, I just drink the stuff.

I can report the following effects from Absenta Segarra within the last week, subjective of course: improved appetite and digestion, reduced exogenous depression (e.g. from traffic, politics, romantic life), increased musical inclination and performance skills (probably due to extended rehearsals over a glass of absinthe), and the occasional impulse to move to Spain and play accordion in the street, preferably near Mr. Segarra's distillery. Obviously this stuff is dangerous and needs to be kept out of the hands of the general public.

"C'est ma sante'!"

By Don_walsh on Sunday, October 29, 2000 - 06:38 am: Edit

Yes, that's correct. No effort was made to critically examine the disparity between their results and such allegations, other than to point to Arnold's absurdly high 260 mg/Kg figure for old absinthes as 'evidence' that such postulates might be valid. Any sentence containing both 'sometimes' and 'contribute' must be taken as pretty conditional...

By Perruche_verte on Saturday, October 28, 2000 - 09:39 pm: Edit

I'm no chemist, so that article was fairly headspinning to me. However it seems that with the received "knowledge" they repeat in the first paragraph of the plain text:

"...often inducing fits and hallucinations and sometimes contributing to psychoses and suicides"

they sweep objectivity right out the door, even if the rest of the article doesn't really support the image of thujone as an epidemic health problem.

By Admin on Saturday, October 28, 2000 - 08:32 pm: Edit

here's the pdf file that was attempted earlier:

mac/unknownberkeley study
3826.pdf (141 k)

By Don_walsh on Saturday, October 28, 2000 - 04:13 pm: Edit

Ted, I'll email the .pdf file to you.

By Don_walsh on Saturday, October 28, 2000 - 04:10 pm: Edit

I'd agree with those two points being the main 'take' from that study, if we just add the caveat that Anatomist was trying to make (I think): that toxicologists use the word 'toxic' in a way that ordinary people don't. Consider the following sentence from same article:

"In modern absinthes the ethanol toxicity is of much more concern that the thujone."

Most people don't regard ethanol as 'toxic' in the poison sense, but of course, toxicologists do. And if you drink strong enough booze fast enough to get your blood alcohol level above a certain level, wham! you can experience acute alcohol toxicity, although I don't recommend it.

"Toxic is as toxic does." Forrest Gump would probably conclude that there are other things to worry about.

By Anatomist1 on Saturday, October 28, 2000 - 01:05 pm: Edit

I wasn't trying to paint Absinthuer as an hysteric. Just a little rhetorical flair... very little, apparently.


By Absintheur on Saturday, October 28, 2000 - 01:04 pm: Edit

"I did not notice any language in the article about (mild) 'toxicity to persons with preexisting seizure or convulsive disorders' although that is a reasonable inference. And I may have overlooked this, as the /pdf format is annoying to read and I may not have caught quite everything."

Actually, I had my sources crossed on that point. There is a follow up study in progress in the Department of Psychopharmachology at Purdue that follows up on the implication of significantly raised toxicity in those with seizure or convulsive disorders. Nothing is close to publication in regards to that.

The use of Arnolds numbers, and the low number for Herring Absenta are representative of a greater problem -- they seem to have farmed out all of their GC testing, or resorted to using older results.

The points that seem most salient are simply that, yes, thujone is in fact toxic (though not very), and that it's easily metabolized.

By Tabreaux on Saturday, October 28, 2000 - 10:56 am: Edit

Please send me the article or a link to it. One thing I can say without even reading it is that a D-5 column is a great, broad-spectrum tool. However, based upon the crazy results I've seen due to use of this column, I've quickly come to the conclusion it does not resolve thujone (and other similar compounds) well. Likewise, a different column is specified in the official test method. Therefore, if the D-5 column was used, it is highly likely that none of the results will be accurate. I am surprised the conductors of the study didn't use a more appropriate column.

By Don_walsh on Saturday, October 28, 2000 - 10:48 am: Edit

Thanks Absintheur for the email of the Berkeley article. Actually the article contains other facts of interest.

It puts the last nails into the coffin of the cannabinoid-receptor hypothesis about thujone.

It demonstrates that, contrary to some speculations about supposed 'buildup' of thujone in the brain over time, thujone is rapidly and easily metabolized. The metabolic products are the nontoxic thujyl alcohols, which is something I predicted (well, I thought it was obvious) some time back, either here or in a letter to Ted, I forget which.

I did not notice any language in the article about (mild) 'toxicity to persons with preexisting seizure or convulsive disorders' although that is a reasonable inference. And I may have overlooked this, as the /pdf format is annoying to read and I may not have caught quite everything.

Some quibbles:

The authors used Arnold's 260 mg/Kg estimate for 'old absinthe' uncritically as a basis for some of their conjectures, this is a mistake.

The authors used the D-5 column in their GC work, this is not the preferred (carbowax) column for such work and so their GC results may be erroneous. The observed a-thujone level in Herring, by the way was 0.5 ppm (mg/Kg).

The primary interest of the authors was in following up on the GABA receptor hypothesis, and proving or disproving it; they have done a convincing but mostly indirect job of doing so at least as far as white mice and fruit flies are concerned. Their focus is on herbal-medicinal use of wormwood oils, not absinthe.

Ted you may want to have a look at their GC-MS details and comment if you will.

Anyone of nontechnical bent essaying these pages ought to note that the mg/Kg figures given for administration to mice are mg of thujone to Kg body weight of mouse, and not at all in sense of concentration of thujone in absinthe. Furthermore the (99%) a-thujone was given to the mice not orally but by i.p. injection. Don't try it, folks. If you do you won't have to worry about whether your needles were sterile.

By Don_walsh on Saturday, October 28, 2000 - 12:02 am: Edit

And, Anatomist, I hardly think Absintheur was panicking. He was informing us all. He's a cool hand.

Often the toxicologists serve public interests well but this ain't one of such times. Thujone has been demonized by their scientific forebears and they are far from inclined to be iconoclastic.

Many many materials are toxic in subtle ways that took a long time to understand. Beryllium. Cadmium. Others are well known to be toxic but are still slow to act except in acute cases (most heavy metals for example.) The NaCN paradigm of immediate obvious toxicity is necessary but insufficient.

As you say, water can be 'toxic' if one is submerged in it without a source of air. Table sugar is 'toxic' -- to a diabetic. Common salt is 'toxic' to a hypertensive, but, these materials aren't prohibited food additives. So, thujone may be 'mildly toxic' to people with preexisting seizure/convulsive disorders. That hardly justifies its illogically selectively banned status.

By Don_walsh on Friday, October 27, 2000 - 11:52 pm: Edit

Actually, Anatomist, if one 'guzzled pure liquid thujone' one would probably go not from clonic seizure but from kidney failure/liver damage. Revert to the Oregon case where some scmuck did just that guzzling (wormwood essential oil, 10 ml or so) and he didn't seize but he went into renal failure and nearly died.

I can think of a way (or two) he might have gotten the results you describe but I'm not going to describe it in a post. It would involve bypassing the kidneys/liver.

By Don_walsh on Friday, October 27, 2000 - 11:45 pm: Edit

Dear Absintheur,

The attachment didn't work, all I got was the icon. Would you mind emailing me that study?



By Anatomist1 on Friday, October 27, 2000 - 11:45 pm: Edit


Your attachment did not work properly, at least for me -- I have an icon but no link.

I think the important point about toxicity revolves around specific quantities in relation to organisms of specific sizes. Even though your body is mostly made of water, you can still drown from too much of it. Conversely, as a large organism, you can tolerate a certain amount of insecticide, even though these chemicals have been engineered/selected expressly for their extreme toxicity to animal life.

The studies that are out now indicate that if you guzzle pure liquid thujone, you will most likely die from siezure. Whether such extreme effects from such extreme quantities have any relevance to your average absinthe drinker, who drinks infinitessimally smaller quantities is the question.

My understanding is that saccharin was recently descheduled and rereleased on the commercial market due to a reexamination of the prior (mis)conclusions regarding its toxicity. Conclusion is the easiest part of the scientific process to bungle.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that the issue of absinthe toxicity, or any toxicity is meaningless without the presentation of the results of specific quantities in relation to specific organisms. Toxicity is an inherently relative concept. If thujone was as relatively toxic to humans as sodium cyanide, we would all know it, or rather, our grieving relatives would know it. I think the fact that there are no reliable accounts of severe adverse effects from modern absinthe are a good indication that there is no reason to panic.


By Don_walsh on Friday, October 27, 2000 - 11:32 pm: Edit

Dear Absintheur

Translation: in absence of any pre-existing convulsive or seizure disorders, thujone is not toxic at all (in the amounts we are talking about). In presence of such pre-existing conditions, thujone is 'mildly toxic'.

As epileptics oughtn't to be drinking alcohol to begin with, as it would seriously interact and potentiate their medications -- the at-minor-risk population has dwindled to:

1. Epileptics who elect to ignore that admonition.
2. Undiagnosed/asymptomatic individuals.

Sounds like a small (read:miniscule) risk group to me, and a minor risk even to them.

Furthermore, this all begs the question of thujone containing spices and culinary herbs like sage, etc. which FDA and other such bodies ignore completely.

In short this is all balderdash isn't it?

By Absintheur on Friday, October 27, 2000 - 09:32 pm: Edit

Berkeley recently published this

1,Department of Environmental Science, study
which, far from contributing to lifting the ban, endorses it. This is due primarily to indications that thujone is a modulator of the GABA type-A receptor -- supression of which can enduce marked, though temporary, chloride reuptake inhibition in the brain, which can greatly exacerbate any preexisting convulsive or seizure disorders.

The unanswered question is whether, in concurrence with alcohol, it creates any secondary effects. Keep in mind, initially nobody claimed that it did. The confusion arose when turn of the century toxicologists blamed thujone for the persistant psychosis associated with absinthism -- descriptions of which were mistaken by later readers for more contained psychadelic experiences.

So, yes, thujone is mildly toxic, though easily metabolized. But, there is no good indication that thujone is psychoactive in concurrence with alcohol, or in any other capacity.

By Thegreenimp on Friday, October 27, 2000 - 08:16 pm: Edit

Is there an actual ongoing study, minus all the myths. Or are we doomed to the perpetual misinformation that surrounds absinthe.
I wonder if real information would go anywhere to lifting the ban in the USA. I know any kind of study would likely be expensive, and the lobbying effort to lift the ban would be just as prohibitive cost wise. Yet I am curious if any effort has been made to approach this.
Or are we just too small a market segment to justify that kind of effort.

By Don_walsh on Friday, October 27, 2000 - 07:47 pm: Edit

A lot of the 1900-1915 absinthe scare had to do with Lamarckian theories which we of course now know are garbage. Also the wine industry and the prohibitionists sort of hijacked the still infant science of toxicology and paid scientists to concoct the results they wanted, which is shameful. That modern toxicologists point to the suppression of absinthe as a triumph of their science, is a travesty. None of that work will hold up to reexamination.

Remember, the French banned ALL herbal liqueurs at first -- not just absinthe. And quietly exempted the profitable monastically made ones like Benedictine and Chartreuse, the latter despite its containing wormwood. Then after a decade or so they relaxed the ban to cover wormwood only. The protection of the wine trade was the sole motive. The health scare was a smoke screen. Pure and simple. The Yellow Press was bought off along with the whorish toxicologists.

By Chrysippvs on Friday, October 27, 2000 - 02:51 pm: Edit

If you drink anything to the point of intoxication everyday for several years you will develop problems. Take The LanFray case for instance. It is the mentality that surrounded that case that I fear is still the factor that makes absinthe alluring...

By Jkk on Friday, October 27, 2000 - 02:43 pm: Edit

In any case, whether you believe the scare stories on one side or the eulogies on the other, all of the deleterious effects were observed in those who had abused the drink for years. No one was hurt by only trying the stuff. If you don't drink absinthe to the point of intoxication every day for years on end, you should have no problem.

By Tabreaux on Friday, October 27, 2000 - 12:40 pm: Edit

You have to take into account that back in those days, many of the poor drunks (the major group which exhibited 'absinthism') drank considerable quantities of the cheap stuff. Since cheap labels frequently contained a variety of adulterants, ranging from impure spirits to toxic metal salts, many persons likely suffered deleterious health effects. This was certainly compounded by malnutrition and otherwise poor physical condition. Those who lobbied for the wine and brandy makers almost certainly did a real good job of blaming absinthe as a whole, when only the purveyors of the cheap stuff were really to blame. Back then, there were no food quality laws, and no way to verify compliance via analytical means even if there were any. Quality absinthe most likely never hurt anyone who drank in moderation. Millions of persons drank it frequently for 100+ years with no adverse effects to their health.

By Chrysippvs on Friday, October 27, 2000 - 12:33 pm: Edit

"I know that many of the absinthe drinkers of the 19th century went mad"

This is a modern myth. Bear in mind absinthe was being produced since 1802 (offically) and was consumed by the french in the millions of liters by 1913. I once did the math, and there was enough absinthe for every man woman and child to have 5 glasses per day everyday for the whole year of 1913. If absinthe made people crazy, then the entire country of France much have been crazy since around 1870 (when absinthe producution reached 1 million liters per year).

The "absinthe" that made people crazy was the stuff that was colored with antimony chloride, or using zinc sulfide for color. I can assure after a few glasses of that stuff, and you would be chasing it with terpentine (although I don't see the difference in the two) and shooting you lover in the wrist.

Final point: Abinthe, made properly, has never shown evidence of deletious effects, excepting of course those of dreaded alcoholism.

- J

By Relrella on Friday, October 27, 2000 - 12:21 pm: Edit

I was just wondering, what are the long-term effects of drinking absinthe. I know that many of the absinthe drinkers of the 19th century went mad, and that I heard stories of people in the streets,their heads completly wasted... Does absinthe have negative effects on the brain and the body?

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