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

  • $\begingroup$ This is essentially answered on Wikipedia: "catnip", although there is no reference to addiction. $\endgroup$
    – Alan Boyd
    Commented Feb 25, 2014 at 16:31
  • $\begingroup$ 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. $\endgroup$
    – shigeta
    Commented Feb 26, 2014 at 19:21
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    $\begingroup$ @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. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 26, 2014 at 22:47
  • $\begingroup$ 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/… $\endgroup$
    – shigeta
    Commented Feb 26, 2014 at 23:17

1 Answer 1


Nepeta cataria(Catnip, Catmint, Catnep) is a plant belongs to the family Lamiaceae.It is a herb that has been recognized for its medicinal properties for many centuries. Over time it has been used in remedies to cure internal cancer, smallpox and scarlet fever.Also it was believed that a dense growth bordering fields helped to protect crops because of its ability to repel rats.

Major Active Constituents of catnip includes a and ß nepetalactone citronella , a and ß citral , limonene , geraniol , thymol , and carvacrol epideoxyloganic acid and 7-deoxyloganic acid

Nepeta cataria has a carminative, anti-spasmodic, astringent and anti-flatulent effect on the gastrointestinal system, particularly on the stomach . It is also a diaphoretic and antipyretic in times of fever . Nepeta cataria is similarly recognized as a tonic, mild nervine, and sedative, with a slightly emmenagogue action . With respects to cats, Nepeta cataria produces an aphrodisiac effect.


A research paper published in 1994 states that,

Catnip was the most promising candidate lures tested. The 'catnip-response' is inherited as an autosomal dominant (Todd 1962). In trials, behavioural observations showed that 50% of the subjects (including all four domestic cats and 8 of 20 feral cats) showed the full catnip response (B. K. Clapperton, unpublished data). This includes sniffing, licking, rubbing and head-over rolling (Tucker and Tucker 1988). Nine of the remaining 12 feral cats approached and sniffed at the catnip samples. This suggests that, although not all cats are genetically determined to respond to catnip , these odours may act as more general attractants.


When cats inhales nepetalactone it stimulates the olfactory bulb, the part of the brain that processes odors. The olfactory bulb then interacts with the amygdala, the brain region associated with emotion and decision-making, and hypothalamus, which controls a variety of bodily functions. From the hypothalamus, nepetalactone stimulates a sexual response in cats that are genetically predisposed to sensitivity to catnip. (About 20 to 30 percent of cats don't seem to react to the plant.)this is why mostly adult cats shows significant addiction to catnip.


The catnip stimulates an Innate Releasing Mechanism(IRM) in domestic cats that elicits a predictably playful behaviour pattern apparently independent of experience and learning(Ewer,1973 and Leyhausen,1975) ,trans-nepetalactone is reported to produce behavioral respondse in cats.It has been verified by Todd in 1963 that capnip is mediated by Olfactory and not gustatory stimuli.Catnip sensitivity has been related to a dominant autosomal geneand to the estrous cycle by Todd.The reports shows catnip elicits behavioral respondses in domestic and wild cats, but these responses are not shown by female sex.In addition, it has been suggested that catnip mimics a pheromone found in cat urine, however evidence supporting this theory is scant.(Todd 1962)


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    $\begingroup$ Seems to be lots of good information here. However, you need to be more careful about including references and to clearly show when you are quoting from other texts. At the moment this is borderline plagiarism. I'm saying borderline since some of the sources are linked in your answer, but it is not clear that the actual text in your answer has been lifted, see e.g. scu.edu.au/scps/index.php/125 and popsci.com/science/article/2013-04/catnip-effects-humans $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 28, 2014 at 14:17

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