Absinthism: fictitious 19th century syndrome


Conclusion

From this critical review of the literature, it is concluded that chronic abuse of absinthe did not cause any distinct syndrome. The so-called absinthism cannot exactly be distinguished from chronic alcoholism. The literature gives proof that the thujone concentrations of pre-ban absinthes were not able to cause such toxic effects (e.g. seizures) that were found in animal experiments with pure wormwood extracts. However, much of the literature is focused on thujone as the potentially toxic component of absinthe. The possibility remains that other constitutents found within wormwood or other ingredients of absinthe may cause potential health problems. The paucity of good scientific studies about absinthe, especially in the realm of chronic human consumption and long term effects of thujone-containing beverages must again be pointed out.

Based on the current available evidence, commercially manufactured absinthe appears to not cause detrimental health effects other than those encountered in common alcoholism. The exceptionally high alcoholic strength of absinthe (>50%vol) alone may lead to major health and social problems, but is not unique to this spirit. However, misleading advertisements of aphrodisiac or psychotropic effects of absinthe try to re-establish absinthe's former reputation. A health risk to consumers is also the uncontrolled trade of potentially unsafe herbal products such as absinthe essences that are readily available over the internet.

On absinthe, Marie Corelli once said: "Let me be mad, mad with the madness of absinthe, the wildest, most luxurious madness in the world" [ 105 ]. After having been banned from most European countries for almost a century, the emerald green, mysterious drink has returned to the market, resuming all the myths and legends of former years. After the green fairy had inspired the artistic and literary set of the belle époque and at the same time supposedly poisoned numerous people, the impact that absinthe will exert on modern society remains unclear.

Competing interests

The author(s) declare that they have no competing interests.

Authors' contributions

SAP and LUK were responsible for the original concept and design of the article and drafted the sections "The rise and fall of wormwood spirits" and "Nineteenth century studies about absinthism". DWL contributed the sections "Definition of pre-ban absinthe", "Pre-ban absinthe – a target for food adulteration", "Modern absinthe", "Modern studies about pharmacology and toxicology of thujone", "Toxicological Rehabilitation of Absinthe", "Present Impact" and revised the final draft. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

A Classic Cocktail

Saratoga Brace Up

1/2 oz sugar
2 dashes Boker's bitters
2 dashes lemon juice
1 dash lime juice
2 dashes absinthe
1 raw egg
1 1/8 oz brandy
3/4 oz shaved ice

Shake in a cocktail shaker. Strain into pint glass. Fill with club soda, Vichy water or Apollinaris water. Serve.

New & Improved Illustrated Bartender's Manual, 1888

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Absinthe Tasting Journal

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The WS Absinthe Tasting Journal

With room for over 200 tastings, provides novices and experts with a primer in absinthe history and facts, as well as instructions on how to conduct scorings and blind tastings.

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