So it appears that like many people, our cats take drugs…. Don’t panic, catnip is a plant that is similar to mint, and is completely inoffensive and harmless. So why do cats love it so much?
Catnip, or Nepeta cataria is a plant used both decoratively and medicinally, known for being antispasmodic and preventing fainting. Commonly known as catnip, catswort, and catmint – simply because cats love it so much – it contains nepetalactone, a resin compound which is frequently found in nature.
Nepetalactone has euphoric effects on almost 80% of domestic cats, while other felines such as tigers are also sensitive to it. This volatile organic compound stimulates cats’ olfactory systems, sending information to their brains.
Occasional contact with catnip causes fairly surprising reactions in our favourite felines. In fact, after a few mouthfuls, the cat appears to become aroused and euphoric: this is due to activation of the sexual pheromones. Catnip is not dangerous for cats, but if they eat too much of it, they can become aggressive. It is generally considered a way of giving your cat a chance to unwind, or used as a reward.
In 2014, American company Stark Raving Cat came up with a surprising idea: to make “joints for cats”, modelling them on cannabis joints like humans smoke. They contain a mixture of dried catnip, wrapped in a sort of fabric. They are not to be smoked by humans, of course, but are intended to be burned like incense.
Reacting to catnip is supposedly hereditary, which could possibly explain why not all cats respond to it. Among cats who are drawn to it, they appear to find it almost impossible to resist, although there is no real possibility of addiction.