Absinthe Involved in Death?

By Nagognog2 · Jan 23, 2006 · ·
  1. Nagognog2
    Banned liquor latest twist in cruise disappearance| January 23, 2006

    STAMFORD, Conn. --An illegal alcoholic drink that gained notoriety in the 19th century for its hallucinogenic effects is emerging as the latest twist in a modern mystery surrounding a Greenwich man who vanished from his honeymoon cruise last summer.

    Passengers say that absinthe, made from grain alcohol and the common herb wormwood, was consumed by a group of men last seen with George Allen Smith IV on July 5, the day he disappeared from a Royal Caribbean cruise of the Mediterranean.

    C. Keith Greer, the attorney for one member of that group, Josh Askin of California, said Smith also drank shots of absinthe.

    Absinthe is banned in the United States because of harmful neurological effects caused by a toxic chemical called thujone, said Michael Herndon, spokesman for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

    It is historically blamed for hallucinations and bizarre behavior dating back to Vincent van Gogh.

    "In large amounts it would certainly make people see strange things and behave in a strange manner," said Jad Adams, author of the book, "Hideous Absinthe: A History of the Devil in a Bottle." "It gives people different, unusual ideas which they wouldn't have had on their own accord because of its stimulative effect on the mind."

    Oscar Wilde, one of many 19th century artists and writers who enjoyed the drink, thought the floor was covered with flowers while drinking absinthe, Adams said.

    The modern version of the drink has much smaller doses of thujone than the amounts suspected in van Gogh's day, some experts say. The drink is legal in some European countries, though London bars typically limit drinkers to two shots, Adams said.

    The accounts of absinthe come after a series of unusual developments aboard the ship.

    Witnesses say Smith and his bride, Jennifer Hagel-Smith, were heavily intoxicated and argued in the ship's bar the night Smith disappeared. Passengers say Smith called his wife names and she responded by kicking him in the groin hard enough to double him over.

    Hagel-Smith has disputed those accounts, but said she doesn't recall what happened. She said she never experienced the effects of alcohol like she did that night.

    Hagel-Smith was found passed out on the floor of a corridor far from the couple's cabin the night her husband disappeared. Hagel-Smith has said she passed an FBI polygraph test and federal authorities have said she has cooperated with the probe.

    Smith was taken back to his cabin by a group of passengers that included Askin, Greer said. FBI agents have questioned the passengers, but no one has been charged and attorneys maintain their clients' innocence.

    The passengers last seen with Smith are also being investigated in connection with reported rape of a female passenger three days after Smith's disappearance, the cruise line has said. No charges have been filed and the passengers have denied wrongdoing.

    Greer said the passengers bought absinthe in Italy. The cruise line has said the young men were seen trying to sneak their own bottles of alcohol into the ship's disco before Smith's disappearance.

    Two passengers on the cruise said the group of young men were drinking excessively.

    "They drank the whole bottle," said Victorio Jove, a 25-year-old passenger from Mexico. "When I got there the bottle was empty."

    In recent years, absinthe has made a comeback, enjoying an allure from its colorful history that was kept alive by later writers such as Ernest Hemingway. Defenders of the drink say it is safe and its harmful effects a myth.

    "When you drink absinthe it seems for a while your mind stays remarkably clear," said Theodore Breaux, an environmental microbiologist and an absinthe researcher. "You feel like you are lucid and alert."

    In 2000, researchers from the University of California, Berkeley reported that the 19th century absinthe popular with artists and writers contained a potent toxin that causes neurons to seriously malfunction.

    "You'd start to get hyper excited and eventually convulsions if the dose is high enough," said Jeffrey Bloomquist, a professor of toxicology at Virginia Tech who reviewed the study.

    Artists and writers such as Wilde and Edgar Allen Poe celebrated its hallucinatory effects, referring affectionately to absinthe as "the green fairy" or "holy water." But social critics, doctors and others of their era blamed the drink for madness.

    Some symptoms described in Wilfred Niels Arnold's 1992 book on van Gogh and others who consumed absinthe included forms of bizarre and psychotic behavior, hallucinations, sudden delirium, convulsions, and even suicide and death.

    "It was actually called at one time the devil in the bottle," Adams said. "It was widely perceived to be a dangerous substance."

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  1. Benga
    Appalling reading. Absinthe is not hallucinogenic. the late 19th century propaganda was describing alcoholic delirium tremens. Absinthe was the most popular drink of the times, cheaper than wine, and was behind popular alcoholism. Morality leagues and the wine lobby pushed the ban. There's no such thing as absinthism. poets were poets and wrote things on cannabis products that would make people laugh today ( baudelaire, artificial paradises).
    a modern day german study concluded to the inocuity of the drink. Wormwood / thujone psychoactivity oral threshold is very high, higher than was is present in pre-prohibition and modern day absinthe...you would need to drink a lot of bottles to go beyond that level. Yet the combination of different herbs such as fennel, wormwood etc does add a slight twist to the drink, but it is not a high, very subtle, clearing... This is also found in other herb blend based drinks like green chartreuse liqueur. Vintage absinthe does not have a "higher thujone level" than modern absinthe, it has been tested and the recorded mesures were off. No this is not due to chemical degradation.
    I wonder what is this unnamed "extremely potent" toxin that the berkeley scientists found in there... maybe it's the devil in a bottle himself...
    really, vintagepre-prohibition absinthe is available if you have the money ( caches, lucky finds !), and has been studied....
    and absinthe is usually *not* served in shots ( nor flamed, damned czech merchants), as slowly adding water is essential in obtaining the louche, and letting the flavor of the essential oils be fully released...
    bloody sensationalism... the devil in one article.
    oh I'm repeating myself again, must be too much absinthe, ha-ha-ha...


    (this previous link also includes the quoted Theodore Breaux's absinthe FAQ)


  2. snapper
    I thought that the heavy metals used to dye cheap absinthe green was responsible for the adverse neurological effects of the drink back in the days of Beaudelaire.
    BTW, the amounts of cannabis eaten by Beaudelaire described in Artificial Paradise was actually massive and most likely did provoke a powerful visionary state, to to mention there were likely other things added to the Hashish balls these guys ate.

  3. Benga
    What heavy metals are used for dying a liquid ?
    ah the whole lead poising theory...I'd heard of spoons, barrels, and now dyes for cheap absinthe...
    that lead poisoning theory by absinthe spoons doesn't hold water if you ask me... many vintage absinthe spoons out there to check, and if it in the bottles themselves (don't really see how this would have happened in absinthe productions ? strange barrel design with lead elements in contact with the liquid, and when ? or green dyes using heavy metals ? ). Check the other threads on this, this was mentioned.
    Another thing, lead poisoning ( I guess this is the "heavy metals") symptoms are pretty specific, and absinthe was the most popular drink of its time...if hundreds of thousands of people were getting lead poisoning, I think it would have been noticed...
    and we would have heavy lead concentrations in vintage bottles also... this was not the case.

    as for Baudelaire, he mentions a *tablespoon* of dawamesk cannabis paste from what I remember.
    While I'll agree with you that eaten cannabis can be very powerful ( swim's most intense experience was with indian bhang), I think that Baudelaire's litterary genius ( or Gauthier's) is really what is fuelling the description.
    You can also read what he wrote on wine to compare ( le vin).
    It's pretty clear to me that this applies to absinthe as well, just note how all the vivid "hallucinogenic" come either from poets or prohibitionists/moralists.Absinthe was drunk by all kinds of people from all classes and backgrounds. If all absinthe drinkers went crazy it would have been noticed quite fast... this was simply not the case.
    Then came the propaganda, the evil absinthe tearing up families, making people go mad, especially aimed at working class alcoholism...
    think Zola's "l'Assomoir" on working class alcoholism, initiatives for sobering seamen like "la maison du marin" ( you could crash there if you were sober)...this was the atmosphere..."classes dangeureuses" and miserabilism...

    Absinthe was cheap, and the most popular drink of its days. It generated heavy alcoholism, hence cases of delirium tremens, but it wasn't a hallucinogen ! the decision to ban absinthe was a political one.

    It's actually possible to drink vintage absinthe, you can buy some and taste it. people have tasted and studied vintage pre-prohibition bottles.
    nobody mentions hallucinogenic effects...

    It's time to acknowledge that "absinthism" is just propaganda,a politically fueled myth...
  4. Voices
    I was surprised that "real vintage pre-prohibition" absinth can run anywhere from $200.00 and up per bottle.


    The link is to 4 flash type cartoons about August Strindberg, a late 1800 early 1900 artist. I didn't know (from the little reading I'd done of him) that he was an absinth drinker; but, the creators of these cartoon sure thought so.
  5. Benga
    yes, well they are quite rare, recovered in caches or forgotten in caves...
    the ost expensive come from countries (and colonies) where prohibition was severely enforced ( especially France), less expensive bottles come from places where it wasn't or less strictly applied ( Portuguese absenta etc)
    still vintage bottles cost quite a bit, $ 5000 or so is pretty common for a pre-1914 bottle. don't know if there is an argus index on these, due to rarity.
  6. sands of time
    When absinthe was very popular, copper dyes were supposivly used to give the green color in the cheap stuff. This could explain the neurological damage that some refer to. Modern absinthe isn't bad, and it sure as hell doesn't cause hallucinations. You can easily buy a bottle on the internet and have it sent to you, it is not illegal. Many sites try to rip people off though because of the notorioty of the drink.

    I'm supprised to see that anyone would waste they're time attacking this stuff, but then again, there is a prohibition party in the United States... Go figure. The propaganda against absinthe appears to be similar than Marijuana propagana.
  7. Benga
    Marijuana propaganda, absolutely.
    The best absinthes, as cited in the quoted posts above, are Swiss, and the worst are Czech, which everyone should boycott

    Modern absinthe isn't different from preprohibition. The copper dyes, lead poisoning from barrels or spoons, very high thujone content etc are in my opinion all myths created to back up the idea that absinthe was banned for a health reason. Kind of strange that there are some many undemonstrated, hypothetical ways of trying to prove that yes, absinthe was dangerous and did drive people crazy. When we can and have analysed vintage bottles....
    Absinthe didn't drive people crazy or make them hallucinate... Alcoholism did...
    Absinthe was banned for political reasons, not for health reasons, and absinthism, wether coming from the evil drink, the fabled high thujone, lead screws or spoons, or copper dyes, or camel urine, is still a myth, and people should realise this.
    Alcoholism does drive people mad, as in delirium tremens, and absinthe was the most popular drink, hence linked to mass alcoholism.
    Wine producers and morality league created the propaganda back then, and today merchants are still trying to cash in on this.

    Get a bottle of recently relegalized (production and distribution, march 2005) Swiss absinthe, one that has won the Absinthiades for instance, and give a toast to the end of all this nonsense.
  8. sands of time
    I wasn't alive back then, so I can't say if copper was used for coloring. To me, it seems entirely possible. Do you have proof that copper wasn't used? At any rate, I believe absinthe is just as safe or dangerous as vodka, rum, whiskey, and so on.
  9. Benga
  10. sands of time
    Well you make many good points. The reason I thought copper was a possible cause of health problems was because it would explain past problems, and why absinthe is as safe as modern hard liquors. To me, the copper theory is not propaganda because it does not attack modern absinthe. At this point, I think we can almost surely rule out the copper theory with the points you have made. Great post!
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