Catnip Crazy
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It's hilarious to watch my cat after he gets a bit of catnip! Mine too - he leaps and rolls, rubs and yowls then spends hours sleeping it off. The plant, called catmint or Nepeta cataria is native to Europe and Asia and was named after an Italian city, Nepete, the center of the Etruscan civilization. Catnip is a member of the mint family, the Lamiaceae which includes other herbs such as rosemary.

In the 17th century, people used the plant's leaves and stem for calming the nervous system. But some claimed when they chewed the roots, they felt fierce. In the 1960s, it was used as a filler or even a replacement for marijuana.

Today people continue to make catnip tea to reduce anxiety, induce sleep, and soothe upset stomachs. And of course, they give it to their cats! Its active ingredient, nepetalactone, binds to receptors in the cat's noses but from there it gets a little mysterious. We know when people consume opioids, cocaine, and marijuana, a mood-altering neurotransmitter, dopamine, is released in the brain. When researchers blocked opioid receptors in cats' central nervous system, the felines did not respond to catnip which suggests these same receptors are involved.

And just like people, the effects can vary. In one study, just 20 percent were activated by catnip while 80 percent became more passive. So, whether your cat conks out or goes into a frenzied dash, just enjoy the comedy show.

For more information…

The evolutionary origins of the cat attractant nepetalactone in catnip
Catnip or catmint (Nepeta spp.) is a flowering plant in the mint family (Lamiaceae) famed for its ability to attract cats. This phenomenon is caused by the compound nepetalactone, a volatile iridoid that also repels insects...

The Science Behind Catnip's Potent Powers, Explained
For a long time, we haven't properly understood why cats are so drawn to catnip, also known as catmint (Nepeta cataria). But whether it makes your cat seemingly bombed, go haywire, or just fully pass out, every cat owner knows this herb can have some serious affects on our feline companions, altering their behavior and personalities...

Catnip: Its uses and effects, past and present
Catnip is a plant that has been used extensively for human illness and, more recently, in toys for pets. It is a plant with which some veterinarians have little familiarity. This article may be of assistance to the practitioner who is asked about catnip...