Tale of the green fairy

absinthe (Majordomo999/Dreamstime.com)The green spirit drink absinthe has a chequered history, involving pharmacology, politics and art. It was invented in 1792 by a French doctor who distilled wormwood and other herbs in an alcoholic base as a remedy for his patients.

Commercial production began in 1797 when a Major Dubied bought the recipe and began making the drink with his son-in-law, Henri-Louis Pernod.

Absinthe was given to French troops as a malaria prophylaxis in the 1840s, and they took the taste for the drink home with them. It became the drink of choice among bohemian intellectuals, writers, poets and artists in France and across Europe, partly due to its reported ability to improve sensory perception. While the lower classes celebrated l’heure verte (the green hour) before dinner, painters and poets created art dedicated to la fée verte (the green fairy).

By 1910 the French were drinking 36 million litres of absinthe a year. But its popularity caused it to be blamed for various social ills and it was banned by many governments around the beginning of the 20th century.

Absinthe’s reported ability to cause hallucinations was thought to be due to the release of the terpene thujone from the wormwood leaves. Thujone is a gamma-aminobutyric acid antagonist that can cause muscle spasms in large doses, but there is no direct evidence that it causes hallucinations. It is possible that reported hallucinogenic effects were due to adulterants such as copper, used to give cheaper versions of the drink a green tint.

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From: Beyond pharmacy blog

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