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Allow us to offer a short digression on the harmful effects attributed to absinthe.

We are aware of the campaign almost everywhere against alcoholism; admittedly the goal is excellent and one can only applaud the efforts of those who seek to cure humanity of this hideous disease. That said, we have reservations about their methods, which cannot all be approved; and with very good cause, they have their zealots who, by their manifest exaggerations, compromise themselves in the eyes of reasonable people. Thus condemning moderate use of alcohol as well as abuse, they want to impose complete abstinence, and even, finding moral action insufficient and too slow, they call for forced measures to achieve complete removal of the production and sale of alcohol, with contempt for freedom of commerce and industry.

It is primarily absinthe which is the target of their efforts; it is it upon which they hang their blanket accusation, and which they proclaim as the cause of all the evils that afflict humanity. In addition to the reprobation which they slap other alcoholic drinks, absinthe, if you believe certain characters among them, is guilty of special crimes for which they create special columns in the newspapers; by the fact of the plants which compose it, it apparently constitutes a true poison and, in support of these statements, they announce strange recipes containing all manner of ingredients, which have only one error: to be without any connection to the manufacture of absinthe, at least as it is practiced in the House of Pernod Fils.

However laudable the objectives of the absinthe detractors, it doesn't authorize them to disguise the truth and to represent the drink as the product of a malevolent chemistry, whereas its components are honest plants, all well known, whose beneficial properties are universally admitted. How could the union of these inoffensive or salutary plants produce harmful effects? That, the adversaries of the green liqueur forget to explain, which is usually the case when passion derails logic.

It is scientists, however, we must say, who want to discover toxic properties in various of the plants used to make absinthe; their reports made a certain amount of noise a few years ago and the Academy of Medicine resounded with the tumult of their discussions. Because, as in the time of Moliere, the doctors are seldom of the same opinion, fans of the famous liqueur may be reassured by the surprising dissension among the opinions of these messieurs.

While some, as a result of completely conclusive experiments (according to them), show anise and fennel to be the cause of the cerebral disorders noticed in the drinkers, absolving the wormwood plant, others, by experiments quite as conclusive, announce on the contrary the latter as the only culprit and restore anise and fennel to their primitive innocence.

Which of them are right? Which are wrong? That is what the man on the street wants to know and these fundamental differences are not likely to inspire him to great confidence in the allegations of one or the others. In the end, the way in which the famous experiments are done and the conclusions reached are such that it is hardly possible to take them seriously.

In effect, how does one seek to prove the toxic properties of anise essence or wormwood essence? One introduces into a guinea pig, by means of subcutaneous injections, one gram of essence; the animal is found to be stressed; sometimes he dies shortly after the operation; the demonstration is made and everyone must be convinced that either anise, or wormwood is a dangerous poison. Before thus swearing on the word of the Masters, it would be wise to fall back upon the self-evident value of the experiment from the point of view of the constant thesis; it will be easy to arrive at the following reasoning:

One will admit that a man whose weight is a hundred times greater than that of a guinea-pig, offers a force of resistance a hundred times greater as well; one gram of essence introduced into a guinea pig would thus represent 100 grams for a man; there would be nothing astonishing if the abrupt injection of 100 grams of essence into a human body had as a consequence serious disorders and even death.

According to very precise calculations, one liter of absinthe contains at most 3-1/2 grams of essences of anise and fennel; the injection of 100 grams would thus be equivalent to the absorption of 28 liters; as for essence of wormwood it exists in the amount of 15 centigrams at most in one liter of liqueur; thus to absorb 100 grams of it, one would have to drink 660 liters!

From one liter of absinthe, 25 portions are usually made; there are thus in each portion about 13 centigrams of various essences and 6 milligrams of essence of wormwood. Even supposing harmful properties are shown, which is not the case, it is difficult to admit that these infinitesimal quantities, quickly expelled from the body, can exert an annoying influence on the cerebral system. The consumer of Pernod Fils Absinthe runs certainly less risk than one who soaks up cognacs, fine champagne and other liquors manufactured with bad alcohols.

It is not difficult to oppose the exaggerations of the absinthe detractors with the reasonable opinions expressed by many scientists. Allow us to cite some:

Dr. F.-J Cazin, in his practical and reasoned treatise on medicinal plants (Paris 1886), says, with regard to wormwood "in moderate amounts, it excites the stomach, sharpens the appetite, facilitates digestion, and accelerates the circulatory and secretive functions".

We read in the New Dictionary of the medicinal plants, by Dr. A. Heraud (Paris 1875. J.-B. Baihière and Son, 19 Hautefeuille Street): "If one takes account of the weak quantities of alcohol and essences which absinthe contains, one sees that with the amount of one or two glasses per day, it can have only slight influence on the consumer."

Dr. Heraud notes that the danger comes not from moderate use of absinthe, but from the abuse in which a great number of drinkers all too easily involve themselves. One can say as much of the abuse of wine, beer, cider and other drinks classed as healthy.

MM. Dujardin-Beaumetz and E.Egasse, in their treatise on the indigenous and exotic medicinal plants (Paris 1889. Doin, editor), after having indicated the proportions of alcohol and essences contained in an ordinary glass of absinthe, add "One sees that the proportion of essence is very tiny, and it is appropriate to incriminate all alcohol as well, especially when it contains pentanol, as is the case with inferior liquors.

Bad alcohol, that is the enemy! We need look no further.

That was demonstred by Mr. Emmanuel Alglave at the international congress of hygiene which met in Budapest in September 1894, the cause of alcoholism lies much less in the quantity of alcohol absorbed than in the bad quality of the alcohol. Indeed, liquors derived from industrial alcohols contain, in addition to pure ethanol, pentanols, butylic and methyl alcohol, etc. It is important to distinguish pure ethanol from the others, particularly pentanol, because there are radical difference between their effects. Indeed pure ethanol, boiling at 79?, evaporates from the lungs almost as soon as it is ingested; it only traverses the body, so to speak; amyl acohol, on the contrary, stops at 140?, so that at human body temperature, it almost never evaporates. Once introduced into the body, it remains there and accumulates there, the daily amount added to that of the day before and two days before that, as those have been added to previous amounts. No matter how weak the quantity taken each day, the body ends up accumulating a considerable quantity of this toxic alcohol. (The Time of September 21, 1894.)

Those are the unhealthy effects of bad alcohols, especially the amyl essences contained in all the potato, grain, and beet alcohols, which are absent in spirits distilled from wine such as are exclusively used in the House of Pernod Fils.

To summarize this chapter, we thus can, without hazard to ourselves, venture the following propositions:

If the absinthe is distilled carefully, it constitutes a tonic and refreshing drink; its abuse can become a problem, because it contains much alcohol, but the people who make moderate use of this drink represent proof of its salutatory effects.

The absinthe made by certain distillers is a simple mixture, cold-processed, using duplicated alcohol and essences, the whole colored by chemical means.

Why these manufacturers aim especially at cheap markets, one can easily see from these mixtures! The least danger that they present is the unequal saturation of alcohol by the essences; those, being more volatile, separate from the alcohol and rise to the surface which is thus saturated to excess.

When absinthe is prepared from spirits distilled from wine and maceration of plants in the alcohol followed by a methodical distillation, the product obtained is healthy and tonic.

This chapter was written when we were informed of the discussion which taken up in the House of Commons in May and June 1895 concerning the project presented by the Government on the reform of the taxation of drinks. It was about reducing the taxes on drinks qualified as healthy - wine, beer, cider, perry, etc, to defer all the load of taxation upon the alcohol which one can justifiably call the beast of burden of the tax department. To justify this measure, they painted a very dark picture of the ravages of alcoholism. Perhaps, in order to produce a sharper impression on our legislators and to more easily obtain from them the enormous surtax applied to alcohol, they had to let fly some exaggerations.

As it is, we know from the information provided on that occasion by the most qualified men, that alcoholism was, so to speak, unknown in France for as long as we consumed only naturally produced brandies, made by distillation of wine and fruit juices. Such was noted, among others, by Dr. Lannelongue, who dealt ex professo in the chamber with the question of alcoholism, and who produced for the tribunal the results of his own observations joined with those of the highest scientific authorities, before 1850 we knew no alcoholism in France, or rather we knew an alcoholism different from what it is today; chronic alcoholism was not frequent; the cases observed in the lunatic asylums were not numerous; in summary, declared Mr. Lannelongue, at that time, alcoholism presented no problem, not for society, not for the family, not for the race.

It is from the appearance of industrial alcohols made by distillation of grains, beets, potatoes, and molasses that alcoholism is born and grows with astonishing speed, bringing with it an increase in criminality, mental illness, and suicides. Such is the thesis supported by Mr. Lannelongue and many speakers from extremely diverse groups in the Chamber, without said thesis being seriously contradicted by anybody.

The work of the doctors and chemists has revealed the existence of ethanol and a whole series of other alcohols having different molecular compositions and higher boiling points; that's why they were given the name higher alcohols, which lends ambiguity, since it is proven that it is precisely these alcohols whose effects are especially harmful to the human organism.

Without claiming that spirits distilled from wine, pure ethanol, are completely innocent and can be misused with impunity, which would be an absurdity, we have the right to agree, following scientists such as Dujardin-Beaumetz and Audige, that their effects cannot be compared with those of industrial alcohols.

Dr. Lannelongue, after having declared that they have not been able to discover the harmful principle in ethanol, sought to determine the dose at which this alcohol becomes harmful to man. He estimates that an adult can consume 120 grams of it with impunity, which corresponds to about one liter of wine at 8 degrees per day, or to eight small glasses of Armagnac at 50 degrees.

The scientist/doctor combated the allegations of certain writers who accuse that spirits distilled from wine contain elements as dangerous as those known to exist in industrial alcohols. He quoted on that occasion the opinion of Lancereau which affirms that "brandies and homemade wine are not more dangerous than wine"; that of Laborde which claims in turn that "brandy from wine is well tolerated because it possesses minimum toxic power"; and finally that of Girard which gives an assent by saying that "brandy from wine is harmless in moderate amounts ".

To fill the hole dug into the budget by the reduction of taxes on drinks known as healthy, the surtax on alcohol would not serve, they dreamed up a special tax on spirits, absinthe in particular, naturally with much insistence on the dangers presented to the public health by the abuse of that drink. But in the anathemas that certain speakers launched with glee against it, we never found anything to belie the conclusions at which we arrived after a calm and reasoned examination of the question; we met no argument able to convince us of the toxic effects of the essences contained in a well-made absinthe, taken in the doses which we indicated and which are precise.

One rose with vehemence against the shameful products too often sold for consumption under the name of absinthe: the fact was brought out that many make these products themselves by cold mixing unrectified industrial alcohol with essences which are true poisons, so that the consumer suffers a double poisoning by bad alcohol and by the essences.

All decent people will share the indignation raised by the revelations made in House of Commons regarding the intrigues of these culprits; everyone will applaud the severe measurements the Government has decided to take to ensure the hygienic control of drinks and to put a stop to the systematic poisoning of the French consumer.

But it is necessary to take care not to confuse the products of an infamous industry with absinthe such as is carefully distilled in the factory of Pernod & Sons, using spirits distilled from wines chosen from among the best of Languedoc and Roussillon, and aromatic plants of the best quality. There is between them the same difference as between wine made from fresh grapes, pure juice of the vine, and the degenerate drink made under the name of wine in certain warehouses for the use of the Parisian population.


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Translated by Artemis

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