The solution can be found in a chemical compound known as nepalacatlone.

From tearing apart flower pots in the backyard to hunting insects to keep them on top of the bed, he does it all. Cats are extremely amusing, and their behavior can be completely incomprehensible to humans at times. However, when it comes to unusual reactions, there is one that stands out: our furry friends’ fondness for catnip grass.

Nepeta Cataria (catnip) is a plant native to Europe and Asia that is well-known for its cat-attracting properties (and induce madness in them). It is most commonly used with domestic cats, but it can also be used with larger cats such as lions, leopards, and jaguars.

Sniffing, licking, biting, rubbing, or rolling on the plant are common reactions to catnip. Cats, too, frequently shake their heads, drool, vocalize, and even kick with their hind legs.

Why are cats so fond of catnip?

But why are they reacting in this manner? According to scientists, the answer can be found in a chemical compound called nepalacatlone, which the plant naturally produces when its leaves or stems bruise.

This chemical, according to researchers, reaches the receptors in the cat’s nose and stimulates sensory neurons. Changes in brain activity result as a result of this.

As a result, mind-altering effects typically last between five and fifteen minutes, though some cats respond more intensely and for a longer period of time than others.

Surprisingly, it is thought that the ability to respond to catnip is inherited. In fact, one in every three adult cats is completely immune.

Other scientists, however, argue that all cats feel the stimuli of catnip, but that some respond actively while others are more passive.

Is catnip a drug for cats?

Many cats are attracted to catnip and seek it out in their surroundings. As a result, catnip is used to relax cats and encourage them to use the scraper instead of household furniture. It is also used as an environmental enrichment source.

It has been reported that smoking catnip produces sensations similar to marijuana or LSD in humans. Cats may experience similar effects, though their brains are not identical to ours, so their ‘journeys’ may differ slightly.

A recent study, however, found that exposing cats to nepalactalone causes an increase in a hormone associated with pleasure. This suggests that catnip may have very potent properties for making cats feel good.

Surprisingly, the authors discovered that cats treated with nepalactalol were less likely to be bitten by mosquitoes. This provides an evolutionary explanation for cats’ natural attraction to the plant.



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Gerardo Franco

Gerardo Franco


Gerardo Franco is a science communicator, with studies at the Georgia Institute of Technology.