Absinthe has been frequently and incorrectly described in modern times as being hallucinogenic. In the 1970s, a scientific paper mistakenly reported thujone was related to THC, the active chemical in cannabis. Ten years after his 19th century experiments with wormwood oil, Valentin Magnan studied 250 cases of alcoholism and claimed that those who drank absinthe were worse off than those drinking ordinary alcohol, and that they experienced rapid-onset hallucinations. Such accounts by absinthe opponents were embraced by its most famous users, many of whom were bohemian artists or writers.
Two famous painters who helped popularize the notion that absinthe had powerful psychoactive properties were Toulouse Lautrec and Vincent van Gogh. In one of the best known accounts of absinthe drinking, Oscar Wilde described the feeling of having tulips on his legs after leaving a bar. Today it is known that absinthe does not cause hallucinations. Thujone, the active chemical in absinthe, is a GABA antagonist; and while it can produce muscle spasms in large doses, there is no evidence that it causes hallucinations. It has been speculated that reports of hallucinogenic effects of absinthe may have been due to poisonous chemicals being added to cheaper versions of the drink in the 19th century, to give it a more vivid colour.
However, the debate over whether absinthe produces effects on the human mind additional to those of alcohol has not been conclusively resolved. The effects of absinthe have been described by some as mind opening. The most commonly reported experience is a “clear-headed” feeling of inebriation—a form of “lucid drunkenness”. Chemist, historian and absinthe distiller Ted Breaux has claimed that the alleged secondary effects of absinthe may be caused by the fact that some of the herbal compounds in the drink act as stimulants, while others act as sedatives, creating an overall lucid effect of awakening. Long term effects of low absinthe consumption in humans remain unknown, although the herbs in absinthe have both painkilling and antiparasitic properties.