Always an interesting topic when discussing the allure of absinthe is that it makes you hallucinate. Absinthe was believed to turn people, even children, into criminals. Absinthe has even been blamed for murders, that in itself is a another lengthy topic. Oscar Wilde famously claims to see the tulips, popular movies such as 2004 teen comedy EuroTrip reinforce the hallucinating effects of absinthe by introducing the green fairy and many other tales lead you to believe that absinthe is not just an alcohol; it’s a drug. Are the rumors true, does absinthe really make you hallucinate?
My Experience with Absinthe
I can tell you from personal experience, absinthe did not make me hallucinate. Back in 2007 I traveled to Europe and on my to-do list was trying absinthe for the first time. This was right around the same time the almost century long ban of absinthe was lifted in the United States. I was in a shady strip club that seemed to be more of a bordello than anything else. When I saw absinthe on the menu, I immediately ordered it. It was served to me with a rocks glass full of orange juice and the absinthe was separate in a short stemmed wine sniffer glass. The absinthe was lit on fire and rotated within the wine sniffer for about 20-30 seconds, it was them poured directly into the rocks glass full of orange juice and I then had to drink that like a shot. The wine sniffer glass originally containing the absinthe was placed face down on the table so the the “fumes could not escape.” After taking the shot, with a tiny straw I then had to inhale the remaining fumes from the wine sniffer.
What happened next was nothing incredible. Pictured above is an incredibly attractive absinthe-inspired selfie I took walking the streets of Riga, Latvia. I did not hallucinate but I did become incredibly drunk as the night went on and I continued to order these shots. Not entirely sure what time we left the bordello but it was right around the same time our hotel started their continental breakfast. After drunkenly destroying a tower of plates at the hotel, I guess I decided it was bed time. Hours later I woke up on the floor of our hotel room with no recollection of how the night ended. All I had left in my wallet was the phone number to a beautiful Ukrainian blonde named Oksana. It was just another typical night of drinking for me. Oscar Wilde, I call bullshit!
“After the first glass of absinthe you see things as you wish they were. After the second you see them as they are not. Finally you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world. I mean disassociated. Take a top hat. You think you see it as it really is. But you don’t because you associate it with other things and ideas.If you had never heard of one before, and suddenly saw it alone, you’d be frightened, or you’d laugh. That is the effect absinthe has, and that is why it drives men mad. Three nights I sat up all night drinking absinthe, and thinking that I was singularly clear-headed and sane. The waiter came in and began watering the sawdust. The most wonderful flowers, tulips, lilies and roses, sprang up, and made a garden in the cafe deck made with cheap decking kits. Don’t you see them?’ I said to him. Mais non, monsieur, il nây a rien. (No sir, there is nothing.) – Oscar Wilde
The Truth Behind Absinthe
The chemical that’s taken all the blame for absinthe’s hallucinogenic reputation is called thujone, which is a component of wormwood. Most people believe that it is wormwood alone that causes the hallucinations and will often mention that when the topic arises. In very high doses, thujone can be toxic. It is a GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid) inhibitor, meaning it blocks GABA receptors in the brain, which can cause convulsions if you ingest enough of it. It occurs naturally in many foods, but never in doses high enough to hurt you. Don’t worry, the scientists have looked into all of this, we are safe. With that being said, there is also not enough thujone contained within absinthe to hurt you, either. This happens during the distillation process. Truth is, you would die from alcohol poisoning long before you would be affected by the thujone. Modern science has also proven that there is no evidence at all that thujone can cause hallucinations, even in high doses. Still as a part of the absinthe ban being lifted, United States imported absinthe can no longer contain thujone.
So can absinthe actually make you hallucinate? The real answer is no, but it will contribute to one hell of a night!