The Conspiracy Theory About How Absinthe Got Its Dark Reputation

Have you ever had a drink of something strong, spiced, and mysterious and then gotten paranoid that someone was out to get you or gone crazy? Well, some would have you believe that you were most likely sipping the unofficial devil's drink, absinthe.

This little green drink, according to the Science History Institute, has been (and sometimes still is) at the center of quite a bit of controversy over its illustrious history. Invented in the 1840's in France by a doctor that claimed it could cure ailments and remedy illnesses, absinthe soon became both a popular medicinal tonic and a recreational one. 

Famous creative minds and artists like Vincent van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Ernest Hemingway swore by the enlightening powers of what was dubbed "the green fairy," and the drink became synonymous with otherworldly visions worth interpretation from only the most artistically inclined, per Delishably.

Green drinks and murder

The infamously psychedelic effects of absinthe were supposedly well known and highly debated, but all of the swirling speculation and mystery came to a dark head when in the small village of Commugny, Switzerland, Jean Lanfray shot and murdered his wife and two daughters in the late hours of August 1905, per the Science History Institute.

Of all of the heavy drinking that he had partaken in throughout the day (which included several glasses of wine, lots of brandy, and lots more wine), that morning he had taken two shots of absinthe, although one of the shots had been watered down. From all of this, news went rampant and claimed that the absinthe, not the literal litres of alcohol or the unstable alcoholic himself, had been the reason for what was soon called "the absinthe murders." 

From Switzerland, news of the supposedly murder-inducing absinthe spread all across Europe and legislation was proposed in various places to outlaw the drink. Lanfray's own lawyers claimed that absinthe had brought forth the urge to kill.

Facts and fiction

The prohibition movements that were popping up around the time took advantage of the fear of absinthe and soon enough the frenzy of politics and sensationalized reporting grew to such lengths that you would think absinthe would turn you into the hulk if you were even near it for too long. But, in reality, absinthe is nothing but a quirky drink.

According to Healthline, many early reports of absinthe causing hallucinations were attributed largely to thujone, a compound found in wormwood, which is used to make absinthe. But thujone in such small amounts cannot cause hallucinations at all, and nor can absinthe. It's more likely that it was just the impaired thinking that comes from drinking large quantities of alcohol coupled with the sensationalized stories and a little bit of suggestion was the cause of inspiration for those inebriated artists and the catalyst for murder for Lanfray. 

Absinthe isn't really an artist's ultimate muse, nor is it the devil in disguise. Instead, it is alcohol in large doses that can prove tumultuous.