Mystery of Catnip. A cat standing with his mouth open.

Cat owners take pictures and videos of their cats “enjoying” catnip. Owners often wonder why and how it makes them feel high. The key ingredient, an iridoid known as nepetalactone, has intoxicating chemicals that activate a cat’s opioid systems much like heroin and morphine do in people.

Cats happy on catnip show different behaviors, similar to a cat in heat. They play in the herb by jumping, rolling around, drooling, and being vocal. This can last up to 10 minutes, followed by being immune to its properties for 30 minutes. Its effects are hereditary, and only 70%-80% of felines experience its effects. Interestingly, it does not affect kittens until they are around 6 months of age. How does it work? Nepetalactone enters the tissue of the cat’s nose and interacts with the sensory neurons. This triggers a “feel good” sense and acts as an artificial cat pheromone.  To conclude, catnip is non-addictive and has no harmful effects on cats.

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