What Is Catnip—And Does It Work on People?

Cat and catnip Getty 2/3/20

If you live with a cat, you’ve likely witnessed the strange, hilarious, and sometimes scary effects catnip can have on your feline friend. 

If you’re the curious sort, you may have wondered what exactly catnip does to cats—and does it do the same thing to humans? Here’s what you need to know.  

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What Is Catnip? 

Catnip head 2/3/20

Catnip, or Nepeta cataria, is a perennial herb in the mint family. It’s native to southern and eastern Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, and parts of China.

The plant, which can grow to be a few feet high, blooms from late spring to fall. 

With green, triangular, toothed leaves, catnip strongly resembles other members of the mint family. 

Related: How to Keep Your Cat Off the Kitchen Counter

What Does It Do to Cats? 

Cat in catnip Getty 2/3/20

Catnip produces a chemical compound called nepetalactone. This compound, which just so happens to attract felines, is found in the microscopic bulbs that coat the plant’s leaves and stems. 

When cats smell catnip (fresh or dried), it triggers the “happy” receptors in the brain. Cats who have just inhaled catnip will roll, meow incessantly, run, jump, kick, play, and do other revelous activities. 

Eating catnip, however, can have a calming effect. If your furry friend zones out after chowing down on some ‘nip, don’t panic: He’s just high. 

These effects last about 10-15 minutes. 

Is It Dangerous? 

Owners of mellow cats might become concerned when their normally calm pet starts spazzing. 

However, catnip is not dangerous in any amount—so stop worrying and enjoy the show.  

Why Doesn’t Catnip Affect My Cat? 

Strangely, only about ⅔ of domestic cats experience catnip’s effects. Experts think this sensitivity (or lack thereof) is hereditary. 

Related: 20 Kitchen Items for Cat Ladies Who Love to Cook

What Does It Do to People? 

If you’ve ever thought about smoking your cat’s stash, slow your roll.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on who you ask), human brains and cat brains are very different. 

What has been proven time and time again to stimulate sensory neurons in cats hasn’t been definitively proven to have the same impact on people. 

However, there is some anecdotal evidence that catnip can act as a mild sedative on humans. The herb has seen its fair share of uses throughout history: Native Americans used the herb to calm colicky infants, while people in the 1960s used it in place of (or as a filler in) marijuana.

Catnip Tea

These days, humans who consume catnip generally drink it as a tea. The tea is widely believed to soothe anxiety and insomnia, as well as digestive troubles. 

You can purchase catnip tea bags, or you can make it yourself. To brew your own catnip tea: 

  1. Place 1-2 teaspoons of dried catnip in a teacup. 
  2. Pour hot—not boiling—water into the cup. 
  3. Let steep for 10-15 minutes.  

Other Catnip Uses

Unlike felines, mosquitos and flies hate catnip. Many people choose to use the plant as insect repellent.  

If you choose to plant catnip in your yard, take heed: Yes, it may take care of your bug problem—but unless you’ve always dreamed of hosting a kitty Woodstock on your property, you might want to opt for some citronella instead. 

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