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Absinthism: fictitious 19th century syndrome

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Present impact of absinthe due to change of policy in the European Union

The policy change in the European Union was primarily based on the fact that absinthe was never prohibited in some European countries including United Kingdom and Spain. Under regard of the toxicological studies given above, the prohibition in other European countries was seen as a trade barrier, so that a harmonization of the European law was enacted [8]. Even if a renewal of absin thism can be ruled out, the recent re-emergence of absinthe led to some new problems.

In a recent study it was noted that thujone concentrations of more than 10 mg/l were found in 22% of commercial samples [102]. Some of today's commercial samples appear to have higher thujone concentrations than pre-ban absinthes. This may be due to the questionable tendency of some absinthe manufacturers and suppliers to advertise the thujone content and supposed psychoactive or aphrodisiac properties of their products on their web-sites. The ancient theories of Magnan et al. are used as a targeted marketing strategy to bring absinthe into the sphere of a legal drug-of-abuse.

Baker alluded some of the anecdotal reports on the power of absinthe, which are detailed in a number of internet forums, to a mere placebo effect, especially since the brand in question contained virtually no wormwood at all [ 10 ]. A placebo effect is also a possible interpretation for the "vaunted aphrodisiac powers" of absinthe that were advertised in a 1971 Playboy feature on absinthe by Zol otow [103]. We found no scientific evidence supporting the conclusion from the article that "absinthe is one of the best and safest aphrodisiacs ever invented by the mind of man". However, the aphrodisiac effects are nowadays even promised on some absinthe bottle labels.

In addition, slogans such as "contains the maximum allowed thujone concentration of 35 mg/l" should be critically judged by the appropriate authorities. Some so-called absinthe essences (with high thujone contents of 750 mg/l) are even sold on the internet as a possible means for customers to "regulate the thujone content" themselves, so that "it is no problem anymore to step behind the 35-mg border." Absinthe is also often misleadingly advertised as having a cannabis-like effect. This is based on a hypothesis – again – from Magnan that absinthe acts in the same way as hashish [43]. The hypothesis was renewed in 1975 by relatively far-fetched findings stating that, because of structural similarities between thujone and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), both substances might activate the same receptor in the central nervous system [ 104]; this could not be proven in later experiments by Meschler and Howlett [87]. The THC-absinthe connection may serve as an archetype of how conjectural scientific evidence can enter our modern culture. A search on Google for "absinthe and THC" produces approximately 36,400 hits mostly of shopping sites, which advertise absinthe for psychoactive effects. In one case, the declaration "cannabis-like effect" was even found on a bottle label.

In closing it should not remain unmentioned that some high-quality distilleries have re-created absinthes according to pre-ban recipes [ 97 ]. Hopefully, after the recent de-restriction of absinthe in Switzerland, absinthe's country of origin, further high-grade products may show up on the market. Switzerland also proposed to introduce protected geographic denominations of origin and protected geographic indications on the labeling of absinthe, as well as the ban of artificial food dyes.
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