The Chemistry of Catnip

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Everyone knows cats go crazy for catnip. It’s an effect that’s been noted in scientific literature as far back as the 18th Century, when scientists observed that cats seemed to be attracted to catnip when the plant was withered or bruised.

When cats are exposed to the smell of catnip, their behaviour can take a turn for the strange.


What does “strange” mean, exactly?

Sniffing, licking, head shaking, body rubbing, sexual stimulation, and euphoria. Basically, not that much different than Ecstasy.

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This behaviour is a response to a specific chemical, nepetalactone, which occurs in the plant.

Firstly, nepetalactone will enter the cat’s nasal tissue, and there it will bind to certain receptors. These can then trigger particular sensory neurons to signal to other neurons, and eventually the brain. This region then signals other regions of the brain, including the amygdala, responsible for emotional responses to stimuli, and the hypothalamus, responsible for behavioural responses to stimuli.

Nepetalactone doesn’t just affect domestic cats, either. It also has documented effects on lions, tigers and leopards.

Via Compound Interest.

This entry was posted in Science by Heretic. Bookmark the permalink.

About Heretic

I design video games for a living, write fiction, political theory and poetry for personal amusement, and train regularly in Western European 16th century swordwork. On frequent occasion I have been known to hunt for and explore abandoned graveyards, train tunnels and other interesting places wherever I may find them, but there is absolutely no truth to the rumor that I am preparing to set off a zombie apocalypse. Nothing that will stand up in court, at least. I use paranthesis with distressing frequency, have a deep passion for history, anthropology and sociological theory, and really, really, really hate mayonnaise. But I wash my hands after the writing. Promise.

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