"The green absinthe fairy wants your soul ..." Gary Oldman tells us in the role of a Dracula dandy in a 1992 film. a drink with a history inlaid with legends and anecdotes, some well-founded and others not.
This is also due to the confusion that sometimes arose between the intake of absinthe and that of laudanum, a tincture of opium, which often went hand in hand. This combination, with the addition of the ritual sugar cube, was the favorite of poets, artists and all those who were looking for a temporary escape from reality, exploiting the effects of alcohol and those of opium alkaloids in one fell swoop.
For many years, this method of taking absinthe and laudanum was simply called "drinking absinthe", tout-court, leading to banning, around 1915, of absinthe in various countries of the Western world.
Thujone in absinthe
But is there something true behind the rumors about the green fairy who would inhabit pure absinthe without laudanum, even giving it hallucinogenic powers? Well, in addition to alcohol, which in absinthe varies from a percentage of 45% to almost 80%, we find a monoterpene present inArtemisia absinyhium, the raw material of absinthe.
It's called thujone, it has a strong menthol scent, and it is psychoactive: acts on serotonin receptors with effects not too dissimilar to those of some cannabinoids. In general, according to reports from psychonauts, the effect of thujone taken through absinthe would be somewhat comparable to that of cannabis taken orally.
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If two centuries ago the consumption of absinthe and laudanum were the most popular and had no opposition, as already mentioned a hundred years ago, the drink was prohibited.
The return to the use of the "crystal mask" has also been analyzed by researchers (an interesting study is published by the scientific journal Taylor & Francis) as we are witnessing a reopening to the marketing and consumption of absinthe with a special legislation in this regard: each country has its own and is based on the maximum amount of thujone contained in absinthe.
In the European Union, Artemisia absinthium-based drinks do not have to have one amount of thujone higher than 35mg per kilo.
The psychoactive effects of absinthe
Absinthe has predecessors in the history of alcoholic beverages based on Artemisia absinthium, already in Greece, in the first century, a similar drink was administered, together with honey, to heal fevers and colds.
There have been many properties attributed to absinthe over the centuries, many of which, quite inappropriately. Let's compare some of the psychoactive effects of absinthe with what is popularly said about it. First of all, the experts tell us that attributing hallucinogenic effects to absinthe is exaggerated.
Undoubtedly alterations of perception and visions, which can go from geometric visuals with hypnagogic images, can largely depend on massive alcohol intake.
The thujone, on the other hand, is responsible for sensations similar to taking cannabinoids, THC above all. The resulting overall effect is sometimes described as a lucid intoxication, with a form of pain-relieving sedation. In summary, according to reports, absinthe would fall more into the category of inebrianti-delirogeni than of the hallucinogens proper.
There are also specifics side effects linked to excessive intake of absinthe. In the past, it was called absymptism. Disturbances to sight and hearing, often considered visual or auditory hallucinations, often fall within the so-called side effects or otherwise unwanted.
In some cases, absinthe can cause some kind of convulsions not attributable to alcohol alone. On the other hand, negative effects in the short, medium and long term such as mental and brain damage, loss of mobility and other serious impairments, are often believed to be more related to alcohol abuse than to the effects of the thujone itself.
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