Is absinthe a hallucinogenic or not?
November 5, 2007 9:58 PM   Subscribe

If absinthe isn't hallucinogenic, why do so many people get hallucinations on it?

A friend handed me a glass of absinthe at a party. I had never heard of absinthe and figured it was just some brand of alcohol. I drank about half a measuring cup. It tasted sort of like Sambuca, but stronger.

First I got a really weird kind of drunk. I had an intense craving for sex. I also had a very strange experience where I seemed to just lose all sense of morality. I actually made a plan to do some awful things to people for my own gain, which seemed surreal the next day when I was sober again. Towards the end of the night, I got hallucinations, which felt rather like dreaming except that I was awake. It was very similar to the one time I experienced sleep apnea, except that instead of having just woken up and lying in my bed, I was still walking around at the party. I saw my cat who had died come and scold me for letting him die. It was rather nightmarish.

I've talked to some other people who have tried absinthe and they have reported the exact same things: cravings for sex, loss of morality, hallucinations. Then I was very surprised when I looked up absinthe and saw plenty of reports of the exact same thing, except every source describes these reports as just myths.

So I'm very confused! Is there something going around under the name of absinthe that is actually something completely different? How did we get all these effects if they're just myths? It can't be psychosomatic because I had never even heard of absinthe and had no idea it was anything special.
posted by giggleknickers to Food & Drink (38 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
This covers just about anything you would ever want to know about Absinthe: Wikipedia Absinthe
posted by ISeemToBeAVerb at 10:04 PM on November 5, 2007

I never researched it much, so I've only heard the anecdotal stories, and they are in line with my absinthe experience, which is in line with yours. I thought that real wormwood based absinthe did have hallucinogenic or opiate-type properties.
posted by padraigin at 10:05 PM on November 5, 2007

Response by poster: I have read the Wikipedia entry. Just like every other source I can find, it says that these effects are myths.
posted by giggleknickers at 10:06 PM on November 5, 2007

Thujone (the active ingredient in absithe) is nowhere near this psychoactive for most people. Howver, there are all kinds of reports about absinthes effects.

Without testing your sample, there's no way of knowing what it you drank. If I had to guess, it'd be something like jimsonweed/datura, not absinthe that you drank! Are your friends all drinking from the same bottle? Who'se you rsource? Is it commercial...etc

I've drunk homemade absinte from wormwood, imported stuff from the czech republic, and 3 brands in london from various parts of eastern europe. NONE had the effects you describe, even in large quantities. No-one that I met who drnk the h/m absinthe (>300 people at big parties in NY) made any comments like yours.

While set & setting defintily make the drug, your experience sounds so radically different from others I know that it makes me think you wern't drinking absinthe.
posted by lalochezia at 10:07 PM on November 5, 2007

I had two glasses of Czech absinthe in Amsterdam.The only thing I noticed was that I could understand what people meant by more lucid. I think you were given something else or added.
posted by brujita at 10:13 PM on November 5, 2007

Jack Turner wrote a fascinating piece on absinthe in the March 16, 2006 issue of The New Yorker. He gives historical info, researches its purported hallucinogenic effects, and writes about its resurgence. Here's an abstract.
posted by HotPatatta at 10:14 PM on November 5, 2007

Ditto lalochezia and brujita's experiences. I've also had a sensation of lucidity, and maybe some very slight visual hallucinations (patterns on carpet or wallpaper seemed much more....more, if that makes sense). Nothing like you've described.
posted by rtha at 10:26 PM on November 5, 2007

HotPatatta: I was recalling the same thing. Thanks for bringing this up.
posted by special-k at 10:34 PM on November 5, 2007

Yeah, maybe your "absinthe" was dosed with something. Quite a few drugs would make you horny and give you mild hallucinations.
posted by Justinian at 10:57 PM on November 5, 2007

was it one of those things where someone gives you a vitamin and tells you it's LSD, and the next thing you know you're in the front yard talking to aliens?
posted by Mr_Crazyhorse at 10:59 PM on November 5, 2007

also, those people who are alleging that they had a "trip" while on modern-day absinthe are well... hallucinating! [lol]

the EU allows thujone in amounts that are a fraction of a percent of what was allowed during Van Gogh's era.

it is therefore impossible that you had a "trip" on absinthe, since there are only trace amounts of thujone in absinthe sold today... not enough to have any physiological effect.
posted by Mr_Crazyhorse at 11:01 PM on November 5, 2007

It certainly sounds like whatever you drank was something other than/more than absinthe. The fact that you were unfamiliar with absinthe would tend to discount the possibility of placebo effect, which is what I usually suspect when people extol the super-awesome effects of absinthe. I have sampled a variety of absinthe, from the usual European sources, and share the general opinion here - it is, relative to other liquors, a somewhat "lucid" high, but as a veteran of hundreds of genuine psychedelic trips, I can state with certainty that absinthe produces *nothing* like a hallucinogenic state. That being said, whatever you had - kick down for family?
posted by Banky_Edwards at 11:17 PM on November 5, 2007

You didn't happen to smoke or eat anything at the party that might have had this effect, right?
posted by Reggie Digest at 12:29 AM on November 6, 2007

Fwiw, I recognise the aphrodisiacal qualities of absinthe you describe. Did you drink the stuff after you'd had a lot of alcohol already?
posted by Skyanth at 12:39 AM on November 6, 2007

I am well experienced in many different types of absinthe, and I have NEVER had an experience like you describe. To me I like the flavour and the ritual associated with its preparation. I have had easily more of a quantity (if by half of a measuring cup you mean about half of a cup) of high thujone absinthe with no ill effects, other than being rather drunk. Is it possible that you have never been really drunk before as half of a cup of absinthe is a lot in a short time. True absinthe is usually around 70% ethanol, so about twice as strong as normal spirits. What would you feel like if you had drank double that amount of vodka in the same amount of time?
posted by koolkat at 2:57 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Absinthe is sometimes romantically linked to Laudanum.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 4:05 AM on November 6, 2007

I don't know how it is, but here people definitely work themselves up over drinking absinthe. "Oh man, this is absinthe! Oh man, I'm about to drink absinthe! This is going to be crazy, guys!" Then they get drunk, like they do after drinking any liquor, and are so convinced this drunk is going to be different from other drunk they convince themselves they are hallucinating or feel different or whatever. It's psychosomatic.
posted by schroedinger at 4:53 AM on November 6, 2007

to lalochezia:

Regarding Datura - the Wiki page makes the "disconnection from reality" type hallucination seem terrifying. Have you tried this?
posted by roygbv at 5:29 AM on November 6, 2007

Occam's razor. The thujone levels in Absinthe aren't supposed to be high enough to have an effect. However, properly made, absinthe is drunk with a ton of sugar. When the liver sees alcohol it considers it a poison and works on it first, so the sugar has a decent chance of causing blood sugar to sky rocket unimpeded, all while the person is drunk on a depressant. Lovely combo, huh?
posted by jwells at 5:40 AM on November 6, 2007

I've enjoyed several brands of the authentic French items, from Pontarlier, and I've never hallucinated. Lucidity, yes, I've experienced that. I can't speak for the Czech stuff.

Note that the sage in your spice cabinet or garden may have more thujone in it than you realize.
posted by gimonca at 5:42 AM on November 6, 2007

It was dosed. Probably jimsonweed or LSD.
posted by desuetude at 6:48 AM on November 6, 2007

How much drinking had you done before you drank the absinthe? Were there any other drugs in your system?

MetaFilter: cravings for sex, loss of morality, hallucinations
posted by chlorus at 6:56 AM on November 6, 2007

...properly made, absinthe is drunk with a ton of sugar...

Adding sugar is a matter of taste, and it certainly can be prepared "properly" without it. I've had plenty of absinthe both with and without sugar, and I've never had anything remotely resembling a hallucinatory experience.

There are plenty of high-sugared liqueurs on the market; none of these will make you trip, either.
posted by malocchio at 7:15 AM on November 6, 2007

One thing that most folks forget about absinthe is the high alcohol level. It tastes like a low-strength liqueur--your average amaretto has only 25% alcohol (50 proof), and Jaegermeister is 35%. But the absinthe I had was more along the lines of 50% alcohol (100 proof), and wikipedia says it can go up to an astounding 80%, making Bacardi 151 look like a girly drink by comparison.

You end up drinking a lot of alcohol very quickly, a lot more than you feel like you're drinking. That was all I felt when I had absinthe--it was like knocking back a couple of shots in quick succession.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:05 AM on November 6, 2007

I've drank Pontarlier-made contraband absinthe with a friend whose from that region. He had the whole apparatus, spoon, glasses, water pouring device, all authentic, made back in the good old days. My friend takes great pride in this cultural staple of his region so he made sure that everything was by the book if there ever was one. He's a regular absinthe drinker and gets his stuff from people who use to make the real deal back in the day. They never stopped making it he told me, they just went underground and sold locally to people they knew.
Except from the weird taste that i didn't really enjoy (i'd take Chartreuse over Absinthe any day) everything was normal.
We got drunk had fun and felt shitty the next day.
posted by SageLeVoid at 9:16 AM on November 6, 2007

to lalochezia:

Regarding Datura - the Wiki page makes the "disconnection from reality" type hallucination seem terrifying. Have you tried this?


Not personally: datura is one of the few drugs I (allegedly) wouldnt do without close supervision.

Note that the above is a REAL horror story.
posted by lalochezia at 9:39 AM on November 6, 2007

I have drank real absinthe a few times. I had to be brought into the country in luggage as real absinthe until very recently was banned in the US. The only effects i have ever received were those normal to drinking. I nth that you may have had something else added to your drink. Seriously, absinthe creating hallucinations has always just been a fairy tale.

This is also what my my friends who drink it regularly (live abroad) feel too. Its all just the placebo effect.
posted by Black_Umbrella at 10:31 AM on November 6, 2007

Well, as the first person here to own up to doing both absinthe and datura (at different times), let me say that you were drunk. Desperately, blind fucking drunk.

First off, alcohol can induce arousal (increases testosterone) and hallucinations (pink elephants). It can lower inhibitions (which sounds like your amorality). There's nothing you describe that's unique to absinthe, and all effects can be put down to drinking an assload of alcohol (absinthe, especially if it's homebrew, can and should be wicked strong—we got the whole office hammered on a fifth when someone brought in a bootleg bottle).

Second, no, jimsonweed or datura is nothing like that. A datura high is like the worst fever you've ever had, and the hallucinations are disorienting, sweaty beasts. Datura is not a recreational drug any more than Tetsuo Iron Man is a recreational film. You would not feel amoral, you would feel ill and vomit, and then have about four hours of dissociative fevered dreams.

I'd also like to mention, for anyone thinking that datura still sounds pretty sweet (and I can understand its use in spiritual ceremonies where stepping out of body is necessary) that the concentration of alkaloids in datura is notoriously inconsistent, making dosage incredibly hard to judge. It can kill you, and even using the same number of seeds from the same plant to make two different cups of tea can have wildly different potencies.
posted by klangklangston at 10:50 AM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Extreme placebo effect bordering on mass hysteria.
posted by randomstriker at 11:36 AM on November 6, 2007

To me, it sounds like either GHB or ketamine. both are mildly hallucinogenic and produce sexual side effects. There are many precursors to GHB that are available online that, when ingested, can produce the feeling you're talking about. I suggest you look those two up and see if it sounds about right to you. When I have ingested GHB in the past, it was salty, usually mixed into a drink, and made me feel sweaty, horny, disoriented and evil. If that's ALL the alcohol you ingested that night, be glad... GHB and alcohol generally equals vomit in most users. Ketamine will make you have very realistic hallucinations, including astral projection, and if it was a small amount you would have stayed awake. However, my bet is some type of GHB precursor.

Oh, and Klangklangston: I have friends who have done datura and you are hellishly right. One stupidly did it in a room full of blacklight posters while listening to Skinny Puppy and I had to take him to the emergency room. He wouldn't stop screaming that the posters were eating him and he had tachycardia... no thanks.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 12:24 PM on November 6, 2007

malocchio - you are right. I was referring to the traditional preparation method and didn't mean to imply other preparations were improper.

For your second point, I think its a bit murky - which we can see in the variety of posts above. The thing is, this stuff is 140 - 160 proof. It's beyond regular vodka, mixed drinks, and the like. Mix in some sugar, the possibility of other drinks on top of it, dehydration, placebo effect, and individual variations in sensitivity to dehydration and sudden blood sugar changes, and you'll get the stuff above. Although it sounds like it might have been dosed as well.

You can sort of see it with those red bull concoctions that were popular a few years ago (probably are still... I've dropped out of the scene). There were a wide variety of reactions to that stuff.
posted by jwells at 1:13 PM on November 6, 2007

Fair enough, jwells. But absinthe is typically diluted to about 1/4 strength before serving, so the alcohol content in a glass of absinthe shouldn't be more than about 30-40 proof.

Of course, I'm talking about a carefully prepared, slowly louched glass of absinthe. We have no idea that this is the case (I rather suspect that it's not), so I have to entertain the distasteful possibility that the original poster was drinking straight absinthe. Even if that is the scenario, I can't imagine any unusual effect other than the "lucid" inebriation that is typical of absinthe (I once tried drinking it straight on a lark, and again, no hallucinations).

Absent the placebo effect (the orginal poster had no preconceived notions, so it's probably safe to discount) I rather strongly suspect that the glass was dosed with something else.

Along those lines, another possibility is that this was "homemade" absinthe. From Wikipedia: "With the advent of usenet and web recipes 'trip reports' have been circulating for many years. These home recipes sometimes call for known hallucinogenic herbs in a mistaken attempt to recreate Absinthe's supposed hallucinogenic effects."
posted by malocchio at 1:36 PM on November 7, 2007

Again, disagree—Alcohol can cause hallucinations, along with every other symptom reported.
posted by klangklangston at 1:44 PM on November 7, 2007

Well, I suppose we can't rule out acute intoxication, alcohol idiosyncratic intoxication, or delerium tremens (although the DTs are caused by alcohol withdrawal) - these are all alcohol related conditions that can produce hallucinations. But, just as you said earlier, these aren't unique to absinthe; a bottle of Everclear is just as likely to produce the same effect.
posted by malocchio at 7:39 PM on November 7, 2007

Geez... that explains why it was so lousy. I'll have to try it again. What is it diluted with? Water?
posted by jwells at 5:23 AM on November 8, 2007

Yup...the traditional method is to drip ice cold water slowly (verrrrry slowly....drip by drip) into the absinthe. A good absinthe will begin to cloud (the oils are quite beautiful as they swirl with the first several drops) and turn from green (or clear, in the case of a blanche) to a milky white. This will release the absinthe's bouquet (sometimes enough to fill the room), and bring out some of the more subtle flavors.

How much water will depend on the absinthe and personal taste, but it's typically between 3 to 5 parts water to one part absinthe. I usually use a sport bottle to control the drip as it is very convenient and controllable, though somewhat inelegant.
posted by malocchio at 8:07 PM on November 8, 2007

Fair enough, jwells. But absinthe is typically diluted to about 1/4 strength before serving, so the alcohol content in a glass of absinthe shouldn't be more than about 30-40 proof.

For people who are experimenting with absinthe for the first time, they're probably not drinking it the proper way. I was at a party several weeks ago where people decided to open the bottle of absinthe that somebody's friend had smuggled in from europe. Lacking any knowledge of how it should be served, they googled on their phones and found that absinthe is best served as a shot, mixed 1:1 with tequila. Good job, internet. I'm guessing that these people had a different experience than someone who knows enough to slowly drip ice water into the drink.

Here's a recent NYT article that continues the discussion of whether absinthe deserves its reputation.
posted by vytae at 1:09 PM on November 12, 2007

I don't think you have to dismiss your experiences. It sounds like it doesn't happen to everyone, but I know, for instance, when I drank Jagermeister I got drunk in a very different way than drinking "ordinary" alcohol, a more extreme and trippy kind of drunkenness. I certainly wouldn't equate it to actual hallucinogens, but I still think it was different from beer. Different alcohols produce different states, to varying degrees, and there are some that especially stand out.
posted by mdn at 6:46 PM on December 12, 2007

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