Absinthe : The Misunderstood Alcohol but Legal Since 2007

During the COVID-19 lockdown, several state governments temporarily relaxed certain alcohol consumerism laws, to which many had asked if absinthe is legal? Apparently, not many among the older generation of alcohol drinkers were not aware that since 2007, the controversial liquor is no longer prohibited.

The confusion mainly arises from the fact that absinthe was declared illegal even before The Prohibition. That is why many were surprised to find absinthe included among the list of choices available for drink delivery purchases.

The Banning of Absinthe During the 19th Century Era

The ban was imposed in 1912, years ahead of of the ratification of The Prohibition Act (The 18 Amendment) in 1919.

Apparently, this alcohol drink has been largely misunderstood due to its link to the alcohol addiction of several famous 19th century and modern day artists: Bohemian painters, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, Edouard Manet, Pablo Picaso and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, literary artists Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemmingway, Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud, are only some of the world-renowned artists who were heavily addicted to drinking absinthe.

Absinthe was greatly favored because, before it became an alcoholic drink, it was first introduced as an elixir. Most 17th century physicians prescribed absinthe for calming menstrual cramps, rheumatism, jaundice, anemia and even childbirth labor pains. The medical prescription originated from ancient Greek healers who formulated the concoction by soaking wormwood in wine or liquor.

In the 1800’s, the basic absinthe elixir recipe had evolved into a formulation for liquor production in Switzerland and later in France by a young French distiller named Henri-Louis Pernod. The rest is history, as the Pernod absinthe distillery and factory, had since then became a huge success.

The problem however, is that many went into concocting their own, homemade absinthe alcohol, without fully understanding the need to limit certain ingredients in the right quantity, in order to keep the gin-like alcohol neutral. .

Absinthe the liquor is mainly botanical, but the ingredient wormwood contains a toxic substance called “thujone.” When ingested in high doses, “thujone” causes hallucinations, leading to convulsions, and if unabated as in excessive intakes of absinthe alcohol, leads to death. Actually, the main reason why absinthe was declared illegal in 1905, was because of the toxicity of thujone.

Although The Prohibition Act was nullified in 1933, the separate prohibition of absinthe alcoholic beverages remained, whether home-distilled or commercially manufactured.

Lifting of the Absinthe Prohibition in 2007

The legalization of absinthe came after science experts took to studying the composition of the commercially produced liquor. Their studies provided the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and lawmakers bases in arriving at a decision to lift the ban on the sale and consumption of absinthe.

The most prominent scientist and researcher who became instrumental in debunking the misconceptions about absinthe was Ted A. Breaux, who studied the liquor for several decades. Breaux pointed out that “thujone” is present in many food items and is toxic and harmful only when large doses have been ingested due to excessive consumption.

The thujone in absinthe liquor if properly infused and distilled, is reduced to around 10 parts per million or even less. If an absinthe liquor has less than that amount of thujone, the alcoholic drink can be labeled as thujone-free and therefore very much legal.

Other researchers who supported Breaux’s study reported that many of the cases of irrational behaviors and deaths related to absinthe consumption, were mainly caused by excessive intakes common to alcoholism and alcohol dependence.