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Academic Test 2

READING PASSAGE 3 You should spend about 20 minutes on Questions 27–40, which are based on Reading Passage 3 below.

– Absinth and absinthism – A In the late 19th Century, Parisian intellectuals and creative types could often be found indulging in a nip of the distilled spirit, absinthe. Why? Indeed, it was widely believed that the drink, sometimes known as ‘the green fairy’ could stimulate creativity and abstract thought in a way that alcohol could not. But the apparent negative effects of the drink, collectively known as absinthism, were obvious to many governments, which banned the green spirit some years later.

B Absinthe has been around for hundreds of years – The first distillery opened in Val-de-Travers, Switzerland in the late 18th Century. It was adopted by the French military during the Algerian conflicts of the 1830s and 1840s, thought to be both a useful tonic for general wellbeing and an antimalarial. Such was the soldiers’ love of the drink, that it rapidly spread throughout France and by the 1860s, a new term, translating as ‘the green hour’ was used to denote the end of a working day; five o’clock, when people would gather in bars to indulge in the drink. In the decades that followed, absinthe was to rise to even greater popularity, driven by both push and pull factors. In terms of the former, wine, an ever-popular drink in France, fell into short supply due to the introduction of an insect from America, the aphid, which destroyed many of the country’s vineyards. Seeking an alternative alcoholic beverage, many turned to absinthe. Simultaneously, the production of the green drink increased dramatically. When the laws of supply and demand began to put downward pressure on the price of absinthe, it became the preferred drink of many. In less than forty years, the French annual consumption of absinthe grew by some 15 times, to around 40 million litres by 1913.

C But popularity aside, absinth appeared to have a number of physiological and psychological effects on those who ingested it excessively. Absinthism is characterised by enfeeblement, hallucinations, epileptic attacks and insanity. Scientists seeking to explain the causes concluded that a chemical present in absinthe, known as thujone, was responsible. The chemical is found in the herb wormwood, which is used to make absinthe, and by 1915, its culpability in causing absinthism was so widely agreed that most Western governments had banned the beverage altogether. Years later, research conducted by German professor, Dr Dirk W Lachenmeier, has revealed a different story. Dr Lachenmeier demonstrates how thujone has long been a scapegoat in a campaign of systematic misinformation used to blame a specific drink, where in fact the real problem is alcohol itself.

D Primarily, the professor’s review of early literature on thujone reveals that erroneous data were used in order to falsely identify thujone as the culprit behind the psychological effects of absinthe. He points firstly to the wide range of wormwood chemotypes, exhibiting significant variance in their thujone content. Some varieties of wormwood, such as the Spanish Pyrenees contain no thujone at all. This negates the suggestion that thujone alone was responsible for the range of symptoms previously attributed to it, since the results ought to vary in accordance with the thujone concentration in the plants used in the absinthe distillation process. Additionally, historical data refer to absinthe which contained up to 260 milligrams per litre of thujone, some 13 times the content believed by Dr Lachenmeier to have been present in authentic pre-ban

© 2011 – A2p3v1.0 – 10/01/2012


absinthe. Many such studies contained unsubstantiated data from recipes that would have produced undrinkably bitter beverages. High doses of thujone can indeed cause epileptic fits, however, given the levels of thujone contained in pre-ban bottles analysed by Dr Lachenmeier, an absinthe drinker would have to consume so much of the beverage that the alcohol dose would almost certainly be fatal long before the thujone would cause any of the effects of absinthism.

E In the majority of Western countries, absinthe bans have now been lifted, with most governments applying a strict condition that thujone levels in marketed products are below 35 parts per million. However, according to this ground-breaking research, the problem may well be much simpler than the rare, plant-based chemical. Pre-ban absinthe products typically contained 70 per cent alcohol, some bottles even reaching as high as 90 per cent; in other words, bordering on pure alcohol. The long-standing drug of preference in Western society, alcohol, can account for all of the symptoms of absinthism, whereas thujone plays only a minor role, if any at all. Many of those who, years ago, reported such symptoms may simply have been suffering from alcohol poisoning.

F The myth that thujone is the culprit behind absinthism was perpetuated by an article published in the British scientific journal Nature during the 1970s. The authors compared the molecular shape of thujone with that of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, and postulated that its effects on the human brain may, therefore, be similar to those of THC, acting upon the brain’s cannabinoid receptors. More recent research, however, has shown this assertion to be false, as thujone has no such effect on these receptors. At the same time, however, peer-reviewed scientific studies have shown that high doses of thujone are destructive, and that still higher doses are lethal to lab mice (and, by extension, to humans).

G So, where to from here? As Western governments cautiously lift long-standing bans on absinthe, limiting thujone content in these products does seem prudent. More importantly, however, policy makers should remain cognizant of the effects of the much stronger drug; alcohol. The alcohol content of absinthe being as high as nine tenths of the drink itself, this is the chemical which must be placed under greater scrutiny. After all, the physical, psychological and social effects of alcohol are already well documented. Regardless of which chemical is truly to blame for the effects of absinthism, policy-makers and consumers must refer to the old adage which tells us to enjoy ‘everything in moderation’.

Questions 27 – 31 Reading Passage 3 has seven paragraphs, A–G. Choose from A–G to describe which paragraph contains the following: You may use each letter more than once. 27 28 29 30 31

a scientific hypothesis which was mistaken a legal requirement that applies to manufacturers a reference to time-honoured wisdom two alternative uses for absinthe several symptoms of absinthism

Continued overleaf…

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Questions 32 – 35 Do the following statements agree with the claims of the writer in the passage? Write: YES if the statement agrees with the claims of the writer in the passage NO if the statement contradicts the claims of the writer in the passage NOT GIVEN if it is impossible to say what the writer thinks about this 32 33 34 35

The active ingredients in absinthe can encourage creative thinking. Economic forces were partially responsible for the popularity of absinthe in France. Early absinthe must have been too bitter to consume. Alcohol on its own cannot cause each and every effect of absinthism.

Questions 36 – 39 Complete the summary using the list of words and phrases below. Choose the best option, A - G.

The absinthe boom in France After its first appearance in Switzerland in the 36..........................., absinthe was broadly taken up by the French military which was 37 ........................... conflicts in Northern Africa. The drink was thought to have 38..........................., but became a popular beverage with the soldiers, who later returned to France with their fondness for it. This popularity quickly spread to the general public and occupied a special place in the hearts of intellectuals, poets and artists, who believed the drink to possess special creative powers. Rapid growth followed, fuelled by a shortage of wine, caused by

39 ........................... which destroyed grape crops. Word list A. engaged in B. medicinal properties C. a foreign insect D. high alcohol content

E. F. G. H.

fought in late 1700s late 1800s increased absinthe production

Question 40 Choose the correct letter; A, B, C or D. 40 What is the author’s main intention in this article? a. To demonstrate that thujone does not result in more creative thought. b. To outline the history of absinthe. c. To explain why bans on absinthe should not remain in place. d. To show that absinthism is mostly an effect of alcohol rather than thujone.

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