In A Nutshell
Absinthe, the famed Green Fairy, was once banned for causing hallucinations, convulsions, and tremors. This wasn’t actually because of some kind of psychoactive properties—the people experiencing these symptoms were just really, really wasted.
The Whole Bushel
The absinthe legend began in the 19th century, when it was touted as a means to expand one’s consciousness and induce mind-altering psychedelic experiences. This wasn’t vouched for by any run-of-the-mill whiskey hounds either; it was done by legendary artists such as Van Gogh and Picasso, who believed that a bottle of the green fairy would enhance their creativity.
The romanticism around absinthe was only increase when it was banned after causing episodes of “absinthism,” characterized by convulsions, tremors, and hallucinations. Only very recently was absinthe brought back into the fold, but somehow, the incredible psychedelic experiences were not brought back with it.
The active ingredient that was handed the blame for absinthism in the original Green Fairy was thujone. The thujone levels in modern and pre-ban absinthe were compared, and there was very little difference between the past and present brews. In fact, analysis of old bottles showed that thujone levels were not only lower than expected, but not significant enough to be responsible for any kind of absinthism episodes.
So what are the reasons behind the famous tales of insane absinthe experiences? Well, reporters of such experiences were more than likely just extremely drunk. While popular drinks like vodka and whiskey contain about 40-50 percent alcohol content, absinthe is a gargantuan 70 percent alcohol by volume. So in the absence of any other possible source of absinthe madness, scientists have concluded that it is the super-potent alcohol in absinthe that led to its mythical psychedelic properties, not thujone or any other chemical.