Why Does Catnip Have Magical Power Over Cats?

Whether you love cats or loathe them, your feelings are likely inspired by just how impossible it is to understand them. Unlike dogs, cats resist training; they’re unpredictable and independent.

In fact, their wild spirit is related to the fact that, unlike other animals, humans didn’t come to cohabit with cats through generations of breeding and training. Cats domesticated themselves about 8000 years ago, when humans moved to the Fertile Crescent and started to grow and harvest crops. Mice were attracted to the byproducts of agriculture, and opportunistic survivors as ever, cats inserted themselves into the ecosystem to feed on the mice. In a classic symbiotic relationship, humans attracted prey for cats (the mice), and cats helped control the pest population. We owe our bond with felines to their survival instinct and wiles, and so even the most domesticated cats reject complete docility.

Is it any wonder, then, that people take enormous pleasure when they find ways to temporarily tame these otherwise independent-spirited companions? Our toolkit for accomplishing this is limited, and one of the most commonly used items is catnip. A dried green leaf that alters the perception and mood of its consumer, catnip sounds uncannily similar to cannabis, at least on the surface. It is, however, a commonly uttered myth that catnip and cannabis are closely related. Catnip is a member of the mint family, and its effects on felines differ significantly from the effects of cannabis on humans.

Interestingly, only 70-80% of cats respond to catnip, and whether they respond is a hereditary trait. Those that do respond are susceptible to a volatile oil in catnip, so just a whiff of it can bring them into a state that may include adorable (or repulsive, depending on your perspective) behaviors like head and body rubbing, rolling around, purring, salivating, meowing and other vocalizations. This effect only lasts for about 10 minutes, after which cats are immune for about half an hour, so overdosing isn’t possible. In fact, catnip is widely considered harmless to cats and non-addictive. Catnip’s resemblance to cannabis is purely on the highest (no pun intended) level: its non-addictive nature and ability to trigger pleasure in its consumer.

If you were wondering, the catnip plant doesn’t have an effect on humans. But wild cats like tigers and lions can’t resist its effects…

Image result for lion catnip
Click to experience the joy of watching big cats on catnip.


Click for videos of domestic cats on catnip. You’ll be glad you did.