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Science Documents on Absinthe Science Articles

These are some of the most relevant scientific documents relating to the study of absinthe. They range from the earliest papers written by absinthe's polemicists, such as Dr. Valentin Magnan, right up to the modern work of Dr. Dirk Lachenmeier and others.

It should be noted that some of the older papers contain mistaken calculations and erroneous conclusions, sometimes based on the findings of still earlier erroneous work. Most of these errors have been detailed and documented in the later pieces.


Scientific American. New Series, Volume 20, Issue 14, Apr 3, 1869

It appears that until 1864 the belief that there was nothing injurious in absinthe except the alcohol, was general enough. In that year, however, a mad doctor named Marce, communicated a paper to the Academy of Sciences, in which he demonstrated that the essence of wormwood was contained in the liquor called absinthe, in the proportion of twenty grammes of essence to 100 liters of alcohol, and argued that this essence had a peculiarly injurious effect on the brain.

In 1867 a petition was presented to the Senate, praying that the sale of absinthe might be absolutely forbidden. Nothing came of it; and now the question of absinthe has been once more brought forward by two physicians, MM. Magnan and Bouchereau, who, for the first time, have made regular scientific experiments with the questionable stuff. The object of the experimentalists was to show what the effect of pure alcohol would be on a guinea-pig, and what the effect of absinthe.

With this view, they placed a guinea-pig under a glass case, with a saucer full of essence of wormwood by his side, another guinea-pig being placed under another glass case with a saucer full of alcohol. The guinea-pig, who, so to say, was being treated with absinthe, sniffed at the fumes, and for a few moments seemed, like the ordinary absinthe drinker, supremely happy. Gradually, however, be became heavy and dull, and at last fell on his side, agitating his limbs convulsively, foaming at the mouth, and presenting all the signs of epilepsy. The same epileptic symptoms were manifested on the part of a cat and rabbit, who, in a similar manner, were made to inhale the fumes of absinthe.

Absinthium: a nineteenth-century drug of abuse

College of Pharmacy, University of Kentucky. Lexington, Kentucky 40506 (U.S.A.) / (Received May 12,1980; accepted February 28, 1981)

The 1850s and 1860s in France have been described as a "gilded age". "It was a parvenu period: get rich quick, show off, enjoy. Gamblers, profiteers, and demimondaines held the center of the stage.... It was then that La Vie Parisienney as a play, as a magazine, and as a mode of life, became a byword for meretricious gaiety" (Guerard, 1959; Richardson, 1971).

During the period, a liqueur— absinthe — became identified with the Bohemian spirit that prevailed. On the boulevards, between five and six o'clock — the hour of absinthe — Parisians from all walks of life gathered to sit outside the cafes and drink their customary glasses of this green, anise-flavored liqueur.

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Absinthe - W. Arnold, Scientific American

Published in Scientific American.

Evidence of the pale-green liqueur'€™s toxicity eventually extinguished the fin-de-siècle infatuation with absinthe. The drink'€™s history began, however, long before the 19th century.

Vincent van Gogh shot himself on the afternoon of July 27, 1890, in Auvers-sur-Oise, France; he died in the early morning two days later. Paul F. Gachet, the doctor who attended van Gogh during the last two months of his life, planted a thuja tree on the artistâ€'s grave. The gesture was probably inspired by van Gogh'€™s admiration of thuja trees and his inclusion of their flamelike images in some of his Auvers paintings.

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The Illness of Vincent van Gogh

Published in The American Journal of Psychiatry, April 2002


Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890) had an eccentric personality and unstable moods, suffered from recurrent psychotic episodes during the last 2 years of his extraordinary life, and committed suicide at the age of 37. Despite limited evidence, well over 150 physicians have ventured a perplexing variety of diagnoses of his illness. Henri Gastaut, in a study of the artist’s life and medical history published in 1956, identified van Gogh’s major illness during the last 2 years of his life as temporal lobe epilepsy precipitated by the use of absinthe in the presence of an early limbic lesion. In essence, Gastaut confirmed the diagnosis originally made by the French physicians who had treated van Gogh. However, van Gogh had earlier suffered two distinct episodes of reactive depression, and there are clearly bipolar aspects to his history. Both episodes of depression were followed by sustained periods of increasingly high energy and enthusiasm, first as an evangelist and then as an artist. The highlights of van Gogh’s life and letters are reviewed and discussed in an effort toward better understanding of the complexity of his illness.

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Absinthe: Attention Performance and Mood under the Influence of Thujone


Objective: The aim of this study was to determine whether the impacts of absinthe on attention performance and mood were different from those experienced with beverages that contain only alcohol. The ingredient causing absinthe's toxicity is believed to be thujone.

Method: A total of 25 healthy subjects participated in the study. An attention performance test and two questionnaires testing different mood dimensions were used. Three drinks with an identical amount of alcohol but with different amounts of thujone were offered.

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Systematic Misinformation about Thujone in Pre-ban Absinthe


The media coverage about absinthe, a bitter spirit containing wormwood (Artemisia absinthum L.), continues to repeat unsubstantiated myths and legends and the public is systematically misinformed. Especially, the theory about a significant thujone content in absinthe must be put into perspective ...

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Absinthe: what's your poison?

Published in the British Medical Journal

Though absinthe is intriguing, it is alcohol in general we should worry about.

Absinthe, the emerald green liqueur associated with excess, is back in business. Having been banned in many countries in the early 20th century, its newly fashionable image, combined with global purchasing opportunities through the internet, has brought its revival. Since 1998 several varieties of absinthe have again been available in Britain—from bars, stores, and mail order.  But is absinthe a special problem or simply part of a general concern about excessive alcohol consumption?

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