Absinthe has had a history as an intoxicant, being blamed for hallucinations, seizures and even for Vincent van Gogh’s act of cutting off part of his left ear. The idea has long been that thujone, a convulsant present in the wormwood used to flavour the drink, was responsible for these side effects, so modern preparations are made with strict limits on how much of this substance can be present.

This may all have been unnecessary. D W Lachenmeier of the German government’s Chemical and Veterinary Investigation Laboratory in Karlsruhe and colleagues have shown that even old samples of absinthe do not contain enough thujone to have triggered off major psychological effects.