Vice Squad
Wednesday, August 03, 2005
Short History of Absinthe

Vice Squad has an infatuation with absinthe. Fortunately it remains illegal to sell absinthe in the good ol' USA, so there is no danger that our infatuation threatens an increase in our insanity. (Note the contrast with typical prohibition supporters, who do not fear that the end of prohibition will result in their own descent into addiction. It's those troublesome others who are the concern.) Last month the Japan Times ran an informative article about absinthe that somehow managed to work a reference to Karl Rove into the mix. (Absinthe is legal in Japan.) Here's a longish extract, including the Rove reference:
Then, on Aug. 28, 1905, a Swiss peasant farmer shot to death his pregnant wife and two small children. Court transcripts indicate that in the 16 hours prior to the shooting, he had drunk two Absinthes, a cre^me de menthe, a cognac and soda, six glasses of local red wine, a coffee and brandy, yet another entire liter of wine, and then topped it off with a final brandy before reaching for his rifle.

In a move that would have made Karl Rove proud, Dr. Magnan and friends were able to label this case as "The Absinthe Murders," and with the temperance movement in full swing, Absinthe was summarily banned in Belgium (1905), Switzerland (1907), the United States (1912), Italy (1913) and finally in France (1915).

Laboratory tests have subsequently found that the "no effect" level for thujone in animals is 12.5 mg per kilogram a day. The FDA and other health regulators generally take the view that setting the human "no effect" level to one one-hundredth of the animal level is sufficiently cautious. Therefore, a very conservative "safe" level for humans is 0.125 mg/kg/day.

Analysis of pre-ban bottles of Absinthe show thujone levels of less the 10 mg per liter, meaning that to reach even this very conservative "no effect" level, a 70 kg person would have had to consumed a bottle and a half a day of 140-proof spirits, a feat which would have resulted in acute alcohol poisoning long before any effect was felt from the thujone. Furthermore, in 1967, Italian researchers found that thujone was the active compound in not only wormwood, but sage as well, an herb not generally considered the scourge of Europe.


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