Absinthe, does drinking it really drive one to madness?

Sugar in Absinthe - courtesy parislemon - CC-BY

Sugar in Absinthe - courtesy parislemon - CC-BY

In 1912, the U.S.Department of Agriculture banned absinthe in the United States. The reason given is that it was thought to have caused insanity and hallucinations, drove drinkers to commit criminal acts and more.  In other words, it was pretty much like any other alcoholic drink.

Absinthe is an anise-flavored liquor that is made by steeping wormwood and other aromatic herbs in alcohol.  The drink is distinguished by its bright emerald blue-green clarity, due to its chlorophyll content.

Absinthe is traditionally served with water and a cube of sugar. The sugar cube is placed on an absinthe spoon (a small slotted spoon), and the liquor is drizzled over the sugar into the glass of water until the sugar is dissolved and the desired strength is obtained.

The effect of this drink is directly related to the degree of dilution, the amount consumed, and the frequency. Physical effects of nausea, disorientation, hallucination and seizure are noted by the drinkers of absinthe. Of course, these effects can be noticed by anyone who drinks too much.

Edgar Degas’s famous painting, “The Absinthe Drinker” made much of these side effects of the liquor.

According to the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, April 2008 Issue: “A team of scientists has managed to get their hands on 13 unopened bottles of the original, pre-ban absinthe, produced in France before 1915. They find that the stuff contains too little thujone to alter anyone’s mind—but more than enough alcohol to do so: the absinthe contained 70 percent alcohol, making it 140-proof, compared to proofs of 80 to 100 characteristic of most gin, vodka and whiskey.”

In 2007, after 95 years of prohibition, absinthe was finally legalized again for sale in the United States in bars and liquor stores.

Does drinking absinthe really drive one to madness?

Well, I’ll have to work on that and let you know.

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