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According to wikipedia, the active substance is nepetalactone ($C_{10}H_{14}O_{2}$) which has weak sedative, antispasmodic, febrifuge, and antibacterial effects in human.

Ok, but why are cats so fond of it? Why do they seem to get high on it? According to the same wikipedia page, the effect is gene linked but it does not mention which genes, what they code for or any details whatsoever. Are all felines affected in this way or only Felis catus? What is the biochemical mechanism by which cats are attracted to catnip?

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This is essentially answered on Wikipedia: "catnip", although there is no reference to addiction. –  Alan Boyd Feb 25 at 16:31
if something is on wikipedia a question you can't ask for the same information on stackexchange? I doubt that this is in the guidelines. We would also need to clear out maybe 20% of our content here. –  shigeta Feb 26 at 19:21
@shigeta I believe that the policy on StackOverflow is the exact opposite. i.e., answers should ideally be canonical and stand on their own and duplicating information found elsewhere is alright. I can't be bothered to find the meta link at the moment, but it's there somewhere. –  Chinmay Kanchi Feb 26 at 22:47
what I can see here is that catnip is not addictive and i think cats might not be attracted to it until they actually take it in.. chemistry.about.com/od/medicalhealth/a/… –  shigeta Feb 26 at 23:17

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