Why is Absinthe Illegal?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2019
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The temperance movement of the early 20th century is largely to blame for the many misconceptions about absinthe, and the fact that the spirit is illegal or tightly regulated in many countries. In fact, studies suggest that absinthe has no inherent dangers, especially when manufactured at a competent distillery, and the industry is eager to dispel the popular idea that it is dangerous in the interest of selling more of this infamous spirit. The legal status of absinthe varies around the world, with some nations outlawing it altogether, while others allow particular types to be sold, and some do not attempt to regulate sales at all, beyond the regulations which apply to other spirits.

Absinthe is an extremely strong spirit which is manufactured by macerating an assortment of herbs in alcohol. Most famously, it includes wormwood, and it has a distinctive greenish color and a strong licorice-like flavor. In the late 1800s, people began to believe that the spirit caused hallucinations and madness, and the temperance movement jumped on this, popularizing the idea that the spirit was dangerously addictive and psychoactive. It was suggested that consumption could lead to permanent insanity, and that it should be banned, and in the early 20th century, many nations did in fact did so.


People who believed that absinthe was dangerous pointed to a chemical compound known as thujone that is present in wormwood. Thujone is in fact quite dangerous, but only in extremely high quantities. Wormwood extract, for example, could have a level of wormwood which is high enough to cause severe health problems, but traditionally produced absinthe contains thujone in only trace amounts which do not appear to pose a health risk. In some countries, the thujone content of the spirit is tightly regulated, in the hopes of keeping concentrations very low.

The hallucinations, convulsions, and other unpleasant symptoms which people linked with absinthe consumption could also have been the result of consuming poorly distilled alcohol, or the consumption of spirits with a very high concentration of alcohol. Absinthe is naturally extremely strong, and the consumption of something like pure grain alcohol can cause all of the symptoms which were once said to be linked with it, including death. In fact, the spirit does not appear to be at all psychoactive, especially when it is drunk in the traditional way, diluted with water and sugar.

After the ban, absinthe came to be surrounded with mystique, and many people elevated this spirit to a high level. As nations have slowly relaxed their bans on it, the results from the public have often been explosive, with people flocking to purchase the spirit. Some people have found themselves disappointed, as the buildup sets them up for a letdown.


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Post 2

@amphibious54- Absinthe is legal in the United States. Absinthe has been legal since 2007, after the FDA identified guidelines for labeling and for the thujone content of the spirit.

I have had absinthe verte that my mother brought back from Switzerland, and it was really good. It does have a unique, somewhat herbal flavor that kind of reminded me of licorice. I think the herbs used are grande wormwood, fennel, and green anise. The color was natural, and when diluted with water and poured over sugar cubes, it was a cloudy green color. If you are interested in trying absinthe, you can find it at most large liquor stores.

Post 1

Can you buy absinthe in the United States? I would be curious to try this drink, as I have heard it has a unique flavor and quality to it.

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