Does Catnip Make Cats High?

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If you’re a cat owner, you know that catnip is a really fun kitty drug. Felines will rub their faces in it, roll around, act silly and then pass out in a furry pile. So what’s the deal with catnip? How does it affect cats? And does it affect cats the same way drugs like alcohol, cocaine and marijuana affect people? The answer, from veterinarians at Cornell University’s Feline Health Center, is… maybe?

How Humans React to Drugs

In order to figure out the effects of catnip on cats, researchers have to first look at what causes us to act “high” when we take drugs. Turns out, we have natural systems in our bodies that receive drugs and alter our behavior. Opioid receptors allow things like heroin to block pain. The endocannabinoid system is able to interact with THC to give us that “high” feeling from marijuana. And cocaine stimulates our dopamine system to produce a happy feeling.

How Cats React to Catnip

The same cannot be said for cats. While the molecules of catnip do bind to the smell receptors in a cat’s nose, it doesn’t bind to anything in their brain (that we know of). Not all cats react the same way either! Some cats turn into goofballs, while others are sedated by catnip, sitting in a statue-like manner. The attraction also works on large cats, like lions, cougars, mountain lions and leopards. But strangely enough, tigers don’t seem to be bothered by catnip.

No Harm in Catnipping

Until research can tell us more, we won’t know for sure why cats love catnip. But it doesn’t seem like it’s a habit forming kitty-drug, so no harm in using it to perk up your feline friend’s day!


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