For many years, there was a myth that absinthe could and would drive you mad and kill you.
This belief was based on false information and was never true at all.
These days, it makes for a fun gimmick, but there is no truth to it. Absinthe is no more dangerous than any other alcohol when consumed responsibly.
But where did these claims come from and why do we still hear them today?
Read on to learn more about absinthe’s supposedly fatal history!
The Origins of Absinthe’s Deadly Myth
Origin stories for the myth that absinthe can kill you or drive you mad are hard to pinpoint.
The origins of these myths are still largely unknown, but they likely emerged sometime in the late 1800s when people began attributing deaths due to consuming absinthe – either through accidental poisoning or suicide – to the effects of wormwood (a key herbal ingredient in absinthe).
Other origin stories claim that events like the infamous Absinthe Murders were proof of the drink’s poisonous nature.
While time has since shown these claims to be false, the myth of madness and death caused by the Green Fairy spread quickly.
Of course, things do go a bit deeper. After all, there’s usually a practical reason behind legends as infamous as these, right?
Absinthe mostly became popular because of the Great French Wine Blight of the mid-1800s. Vineyards were ravaged which meant there just wasn’t enough wine and cognac able to be made.
People started to flock to the considerably cheaper (and now readily available) drink that was favored by so many artists at the time: absinthe.
In no time at all, absinthe became more popular than ever!
Of course, this created a problem for the wine industry once the blight came to an end…
The grapes were back, but they had to get their customers back too. What followed was a full-scale demonization of absinthe.
They released (non-peer-reviewed) scientific studies, published anti-absinthe propaganda, and pressured politicians to support their efforts. Absinthe was viewed as Public Enemy Number One and was blamed for causing alcoholism, degeneracy, and the collapse of French culture.
As more people believed the claims that the drink caused madness and death, it seemed that absinthe’s days were numbered.
Using their influence, the wine industry kept up this smear campaign until absinthe was completely and totally banned.
By 1914, absinthe was illegal throughout Europe.
Is There Truth to the Myths?
There is no truth to the myths that absinthe can kill you or drive you mad.
Absinthe has a high alcohol content so it should be consumed responsibly as you would any other high-ABV drink like tequila, vodka, or whiskey. Beyond any of the risks related to overconsumption of any alcohol (such as alcohol poisoning), there aren’t any unique risks when it comes to absinthe.
The myth that absinthe can kill you is based on the belief that wormwood (one of the key herbal ingredients in absinthe) is poisonous.
Although it is true that grand wormwood contains thujone (a neurotoxin), absinthe does not contain high enough levels for thujone to have poisonous effects. The amount of thujone found in absinthe is so low, in fact, that it does not cause any adverse effects to the majority of people who drink it.
In reality, thujone does not make absinthe particularly dangerous at all since it’s been proven to have psychoactive side effects only after consuming extreme amounts.
It’s possible that there were some issues with some absinthes “back in the day” due to a lack of regulations in the distilling process. However, most of the evidence that we have shows this to be the exception and not the rule.
For the same reason that anything can be made dangerous if toxic substances are added to it, the resulting absinthe bans were largely based on alarmist overreaction and unnecessary panic.
After all, it seems like a pretty bad business strategy for a proper distiller to kill their customers. It’s usually bootleggers who don’t actually know what they’re doing that can give everyone else a bad name.
The Modern Absinthe Myth
Absinthe’s past as a misunderstood drink that was blamed for everything from degeneracy and madness to murder and the collapse of civilized society has given it a type of legendary history.
Absinthe is legal again, but most people can’t help but raise their eyebrows if you mention that you drink it. After all, some of those old false claims still linger!
But that’s added a myth to absinthe that makes it even more curious. In fact, you’ll see countless absinthe sellers and distillers play up the myths.
These days, those myths make for a fun, tongue-in-cheek gimmick that just adds to absinthe’s mysteriousness.
Can absinthe kill you? The short answer is no. Absinthe can’t actually hurt you and it’s not going to drive you mad either.
The claims that it will are false and based on nearly two centuries of misinformation and slander. It does make for a fun gimmick, but there is no truth to them.
As long as you drink responsibly as you would/should with any other alcohol, you’ll find absinthe to be an enjoyable and harmless drinking experience!
What can hurt you, however, is the modern ritual of lighting your absinthe on fire. Click here to check out my article explaining why you should NEVER EVER set absinthe on fire!