Scientists discover the relatively unknown effects of catnip, the psychoactive cat treat

Fareeha Arshad

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Cats and other feline family members enjoy catnip, a herb that causes short episodes of pawing, drooling, and squirming. When cats tear down the leaves of Nepeta cataria (catnip), the leaves release certain intoxicants that could have some medicinal value. Sometimes, cats not only tear down the leaves but also crush them beneath their paws and demonstrate hedonistic traits.

According to studies, when the cats crumple the leaves, insect repellants are released into the air, acting as natural toxicants against many insects. When cats play around with the catnip, they surround their fur with pesticides released into the air. Chemicals like nepetalactol and nepetalactone (that belong to the class of chemicals called the iridoids) are produced by catnip that functions as insect repellants, especially against the mosquito Aedes albopictus.

In a recent study published in ‘iScience’, scientists concluded that when cats attack catnips or other similar plants like silver vines, the release of the insect repellant chemicals gets triggered. With further crushing and ripping off the leaves by cats, the release of the iridoids increases by multiple folds.

It must be noted that these plants keep releasing the chemicals even when the leaves are untouched; however, the quantity released is very low. On the contrary, with the help of cats, the intoxicants released increase enormously. Also, cats that come in contact with the iridoids become protected from insects because of being surrounded by the chemicals.

Various other similar plant extracts like the chrysanthemum, lavender, marigold, and mint, among others, also act as insect repellents.

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I am a scientist by profession and a historian by passion. I write about current affairs, history, science, and lifestyle.

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