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Why is Thujone so vilified?

-- By  Travis M in  Victoria, BC, Canada on Sat, 28 Jul 2012 at 02:14.

Thujone is not new to us. We have known something about it for hundreds of years. We do know that large quanitities of it is toxic. We also know that absinthe rose to it's peak infamy due, primarily, to it's thujone content.

At the time of the absinthe ban, there was a perfect storm brewing. The wine industry in France was recovering, slowly, from the phylloxera years. Cries for temperance were loud and clear and moving to the fore-front. Industry was being damaged by the peoples' desire to DRINK!!!

The temperance movement was strong, but could not even hope to see a general ban on alcohol in France. LOL! Imagine: France with ZERO alcohol?! Not going to happen! Temperance did not want to suffer a complete fail after having spent so much energy on thier cause, so the movement shifted focus. The temperance movement began to zero their tagetting down to one particular meanie: The new-comer, Absinthe. After all, everyone knows, it is a crazy substance with all that thujone in it!

The temperance movement did not have any real money or backing. The wine industry had money and means. The wine industry was recovering slowly from being nearly decimated by phylloxera in the 1860s. The peoples' love of the absinthe tradition was hampering wine's return to it's throne as THE drink. Absinthe was ripe for the picking. Absinthe was bad, as it contained all that THUJONE!! All the wine industry needed to do was to paint absinthe as the evil spirit and prove to the government that absinthe would be the downfall of all, and they could get that marketshare back.

Temperance was part-way there in proving to the public that absinthe was the devil in a bottle, targetting the thujone. The wine industry stepped to the plate also. They had the money and science on their side. The wine industry invested in some shady science and injected the required funding to the cause and were able to prove that the thujone in absinthe was to blame.

But why thujone? Thujone is not the most toxic ingredient in absinthe. Easy answer: The only alcoholic beverage that contains thujone is absinthe. The wine industry and the new focus of the temperance movement did not want anything else banned; just absinthe. So, they targetted the one thing that absinthe had that nothing else did and focussed fire. Eventually, absinthe fell.

Temperance scored a hit. Wine lost a competitor.

We know now that the science was heavily skewed and biased. We also know now that the small amounts of thujone that were actually present do not pose health risks. Now, we see the return of The Green Fairy.

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Thujone rich: Artemisia absinthium
Thujone is found in a variety of common plants and herbs. In absinthe, thujone comes from wormwood (pictured), the wild-growing perennial that is especially rich in the substance. (Photo: H. Kress)

More absinthe information...

About thujone

The Wikipedia entry on thujone gives an overview of the substance's chemical composition and pharmacology. Also includes a brief discussion of thujone content in absinthe (modern and pre-ban).

Vivienne Baillie Gerritsen, writing for the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics in 2005, isn't too thrilled by the Green Fairy's comeback. A scientific analysis of the effect of thujone, or a modern-day anti-absinthe rant? You decide.

Should you care to know that the substance's formal chemical name is "1-isopropyl-4-methylbicyclo[3.1.0] hexan-3-one", then the geeky 3Dchem's interactive 3-D model of the thujone molecule is a toy you'll like. Unfortunately, the associated article contains quite a few factual errors.


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