Thursday, October 16, 2014

Catnip (aka "Kitty Crack")

As a faithful cat owner (aka "employee"), I dedicate this entry to all our little feline companions, who can also appreciate the wide world of herbs. 

What exactly is Catnip?

Catnip plants (Nepeta cataria and other Nepeta species) are members of the mint family and contain volatile oils, sterols, acids and tannins. These herbs are native to Europe, Asia and Africa, and were brought to North America by settlers. Nowadays, the plant is popular in herb gardens, especially of cat owners, and can be found growing in the wild as a weed.

An open bag is an empty bag...

Have you ever seen a cat under the effects of catnip?
No? Grab your popcorn--it's an entertaining show! Watch as it magically transforms your lazy kitty couch potato into a flipped-out ball of ecstasy.

Shortly after exposure to the dry or fresh leaves, they enter a temporary euphoric state in which they rub their heads and body on the herb or jump, roll around, vocalize wildly and drool. This response lasts for about 10 minutes, after which the cat seems to enter a buzzed stupor or "afterglow" and becomes temporarily immune to catnip's effects for roughly 30 minutes. Response to catnip is hereditary; about 70 to 80 percent of cats exhibit this strange behavior in the plant's presence. It tends to only affect cats that have reached sexual maturity (around six months old). Despite the wild "psychedelic" reaction it may induce, catnip is considered to be nonaddictive and completely harmless to our feline companions. 

How does it work its magic?     

Cats get high off catnip by inhaling the nepetalactone in the plant - a chemical which binds to receptors inside a cat's nose and stimulates sensory neurons in the brain. This appears to alter activity in several brain areas: the olfactory bulb, the amygdala and the hypothalamus, which plays a part in regulating emotional response. However, nepetalactone isn't the only chemical that triggers this reaction in cats. Others include actinidine and iridomyrcin, which are both found naturally in other plants. Tigers, lions and other large cats are also susceptible to these chemicals. 

So, why doesn't it have the same effect on us?

Our olfactory systems and brains are structured differently from those of cats. However, humans have been using catnip since the 1600's for other reasons. Europeans used the plant as a mild sedative by brewing tea with its leaves, smoking them or chewing them. It has also been said to cure flatulence, hives and toothaches. In the 1960's some users claimed it could be smoked as a substitute for marijuana and altered their state of consciousness, but scientists later determined it was just a placebo effect. 

Catnip oil can be used as a natural insect repellent and can be quite effective against termites and fleas. Concentrated nepetalactone is 10 times more powerful than DEET, the most widely used chemical repellent. 
Nowadays, catnip is primary grown for the benefit of our feline friends. 

Is your kitty a fan of the herb? Why not try growing it at home?


Time for an intervention...

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