FEB 23, 2017 3:40 PM PST

How Does Catnip Work?

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Regardless of whether you have a cat, you've probably heard of the potent power of catnip. One sniff of this stuff is known to send some cats into a frenzy, which may include unprovoked jumping, rolling, meowing, and salivating. What exactly is catnip and why does it have such effects on our feline friends?

Catnip is actually a plant (Nepeta cataria), which is a member of the mint family. These plants are known for their volatile oils, tannins, and other compounds. Particular to catnip, the volatile oil nepetalactone affects the receptors on neurons in the cat brain. This stimulation produces the bizarre behaviors seen when cats get a whiff of catnip. Some have even equated these effects to people being high on marijuana or LSD.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), the effects of catnip only last about 10 to 15 minutes, followed by a few hours where the cat is seemingly "immune" to the powers of the plant. In addition, not all cats are affected by catnip. Watch the video to learn more about cats' relationship with catnip.
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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