Catnip is a perennial herb of the mint family. It is also known for the intense behavioural effects it has on cats, and not just domestic cats but also many other wild species, even tigers and lions! When in close proximity to the plant, cats have been observed to rub it, swipe it, bite it, and just pretty much go bonkers for a few minutes. What exactly is happening, though? How exactly does this feline version of Mary Jane really work?

Why do cats love catnip?

The secret is the chemical called nepetalactone found in catnips. Nepetalactone is believed to mimic feline pheromones and stimulate a cat’s olfactory receptors when it enters a cat’s nasal tissue. This stimulation signals the brain and can quickly send your feline friend to a state of euphoria within a few minutes.

Do all cats love catnip?

Not all cats love catnip, though. This herb is shown to have a wide range of effects on cats, with some reacting pleasantly, others becoming hyperactive, sleepy, or even aggressive and territorial. Some won’t react at all! Luckily, the effect only lasts about ten minutes and usually takes a cat a couple hours to reset and either become hostile or fall in love with this perennial herb all over again. Cats that are too frequently exposed to the plant, however, may stop responding to it. To avoid habituation, catnip should only be given once every two weeks or longer.

Is catnip safe?

Catnip is safe! Your cat may chew on the leaves, but this is simply to release more nepetalactone. They may also get sleepy if they end up eating too much of the plant. And in rare cases, cats that ingest too much catnip may vomit or have irregular bowel movements, so make sure they’re not exposed to too much too often!

How does it affect humans?

Catnip has actually been used by humans for hundreds of years as medicinal herbs. It’s often made into tea with relaxing effects similar to that of chamomile tea, producing sedative effects on humans. Other treatment methods include chewing, ingesting, and–you guessed it–smoking. Smoking catnip is actually supposed to help with asthma and bronchitis. The soothing effect from smoking this herb made it a popular alternative to marijuana in the 1960s, as it allegedly provides more of a subtle high.

Despite its long history, it is labelled as a plant of ‘undefined safety,’ whether for drinking, chewing, ingesting, or smoking, by the Food and Drug Administration, so we’re not recommending anything! Let’s leave this one for the cats.

Daniel is a Digital Marketing and Content Strategist at SPUD. He graduated from UBC with a degree in English and International Relations with a focus on environmental topics. A wordsmith by day and a bookman by night, he's a self-proclaimed gastronomic snob, a buck-a-shuck addict, a sub-par skier, and a devoted kingsguard of the oxford comma. He also frequents the dog park with a schnauzer named Duke. | Instagram: @dannnyellow

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