Vice Squad
Saturday, March 13, 2004
Absinthe Ban in Switzerland

"Swiss Government Supports End to Absinthe Ban"... reads the headline to the linked Yahoo news story. The ban itself has been around for nearly a century:

"The federal Swiss government said in a report that the 1908 ban no longer was justified, since the quantities of thuyone -- the substance in absinthe considered dangerous -- were now clearly regulated in the drink.

Legalizing it would actually enable authorities to control the production of the alcohol and tax its sales, it said."

Is absinthe, because of thuyone (or thujone), more dangerous than other beverages with similar alcohol content? For modern absinthe (at least not the bootlegged variety), it looks as if the answer is no, but very high levels of thuyone would be a cause for concern. Did pre-ban absinthe contain sufficient thuyone to cause health problems (including mental illness)? Here's the final paragraph of an informative look at thujone by Ian Hutton:

"In conclusion, there is no evidence that absinthe ever contained the high concentrations of thujone that would have led to detrimental effects or that it has hallucinogenic or mind altering properties. The health problems experienced by chronic users were likely to have been caused by adulterants in inferior brands and by the high levels of alcohol present. Claims for beneficial effects must also be treated with some scepticism as again, the detrimental effects of the alcohol would presumably outweigh any benefits. It seems likely that the phenomenal success of absinthe during the 19th century was due to one factor, the French love of aniseed drinks. The modern equivalent of absinthe, pastis, is by far the most popular distilled spirit in France with 125 million litres being consumed annually. Perhaps the reason that so much absinthe was consumed, and absintheurs waxed so lyrically about it was simply because it tasted good."

Absinthe is now legal in most of the European Union, though it remains prohibited in the United States. If you do try absinthe, try not to end up like this perplexed soul; try to be more like this happy-seeming imbiber.


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