Harm that absinthe causes is usually tied to thujone (monoterpene) that is a part of the drink. It is essence of wormwood and a toxic substance that can cause some negative after-effects to your body. Influence of absinthe is quite similar to some drugs that cause general excitement, changes in perception of reality, and hallucinations.
As a substance thujone is neurotoxic drug which affects central nervous system and changes one’s perception of reality. Hundreds of people are sure it has some “magical” qualities but they do not take into account that because thujone is psychotropic drug it affects creative and mentally unstable people quicker than average person. And let’s think logically almost every creative person is mentally unstable.
Should we have a excurse in history and look at all the famous absinthe ‘lovers”? Names like Vincent Van Gogh, Henri Matisse, Salvador Dali, Paul Gauguin, Paul Verlaine, Edgar Degas, Aleister Crowley, Ernest Hemingway, Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, Artur Rimbaud, Oscar Wilde, Edgar Allan Poe and many more were always closely tied with absinthe. And if you look at their works you can with confidence say that most of their masterpieces were done under the influence of absinthe.
Among of them all Vincent Van Gogh was perhaps the most zealous fun of the “green fairy”. No one knows for sure how long he had been drinking absinthe. But it is known that he used to drink it regularly and in great quantities. As it is long-term consumption of absinthe can lead to permanent change in you perception of color spectrum mainly all the light colors are seen in different shades of yellow. And one of the characteristics of Van Gogh’s works is plentitude of yellow.
Reputation of absinthe was created mainly out of reports about famous absinthe drinkers of that time. For example it is common belief that Van Gogh cut off his ear while under the influence of absinthe. But you will never hear that all the members of Van Gogh’s family were suffering from mental illnesses in the same sentence. Van Gogh was drinking not only absinthe. Once he tried to drink turpentine. However most people link Van Gogh’s mental state with drinking absinthe.
Majority of experiments with thujone were done between 1800 and 1900. At that time science and equipment were far from precise. Also they were mostly done in France and result translations weren’t exact as well. Generality of experiments were conducted on animals physiology of whom differs from human’s physiology. One more significant fact about those researches is that all the tests were directed on observation of reactions of the subjects to high dosage of thujone. All those facts make it hard to see the research results from back then other than skeptically.
Besides because of the high concentration of alcohol in absinthe effects of thujone are weakened. Thujone is oily substance of brown color and does not dissolve in water but is highly reactive with ethanol. That’s why before you drink absinthe you have to prepare it in some way. Sugar is part of the process for the same reason. Sugar destroys the binds between ethanol and thujone or any other essences present in absinthe allowing you to feel the effect of thujone and taste the absinthe to its full extent. Back in the day when absinthe was in its pique sugar was necessity. Usually absinthe was very bitter because of the amounts of wormwood added to it and because not every absinthe went through distillation process that takes the bitterness away. It was served deluded with water and without the sugar it was almost impossible to drink.
Not so long ago new experiments were conducted proving possibility of poisoning with thujone contained in absinthe to be impossible. During the tests rats were injected different doses of pure thujone. Results proved to be different but there is only one conclusion – all subjects that were pretreated with 1 g/kg ethanol didn’t experience any side effects of thujone and survived even “lethal” dose of 100 mg/kg (this dose is indicated as 100 mg thujone per 1 kg of subjects weight).
So DO NOT be afraid! Go on and enjoy the effects of absinthe!