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What drug is catnip like?

Catnip is an herb that induces a temporary state of euphoria in cats when they smell or ingest it. So in that sense, catnip acts like a recreational drug for cats. However, catnip is not chemically similar to known recreational drugs used by humans. The active ingredient in catnip is called nepetalactone, which is a terpenoid compound. This gives catnip unique psychoactive effects in cats that cannot be directly compared to any single human recreational drug. That said, the catnip “high” has been described as similar to the effects of marijuana, LSD, or mild stimulants, depending on the individual cat’s response.

What causes the “high” from catnip?

Nepetalactone in catnip triggers a response in a cat’s olfactory system and central nervous system. When a cat smells or ingests catnip, the nepetalactone binds to olfactory receptors in the nose and stimulates sensory neurons. This sends signals to the brain leading to the release of dopamine, which causes euphoria and excitability. The effects on cats range from mellow and relaxed, to hyperactive and erratic, lasting about 5-15 minutes on average before subsiding.

Does catnip get cats “high” like marijuana?

There are some similarities in the induced behaviors of catnip responses and marijuana intoxication. Catnip can cause drowsiness, jumping or rolling around, pacing, rubbing on objects, and playfulness. These resemble the effects of marijuana which may include relaxation, altered sensory perception, reduced inhibition, and enhanced sociability in humans. The key difference is that nepetalactone works much more quickly and then leaves a cat’s system rapidly after 15 minutes or so. Marijuana intoxication comes on slower and can last for hours.

Comparison of catnip and marijuana effects

Effect Catnip Marijuana
Relaxation Sometimes Commonly
Hyperactivity Sometimes Rarely
Playfulness Commonly Sometimes
Duration 5-15 minutes 2-6 hours

So while both can induce somewhat overlapping states like relaxation or euphoria, catnip’s effects are much more fleeting compared to marijuana. The differences in duration of action and hyperactivity from catnip also distinguish it from a marijuana-like high.

Does catnip produce effects like LSD or psychedelics?

The psychedelic effects of catnip are limited and not well substantiated. Nepetalactone is not considered a hallucinogen like LSD or other classic psychedelics. However, some people claim that smoking catnip can induce mild perceptual changes, associations, and openness like a weak psychedelic. The evidence for this is mainly anecdotal. Any psychedelic-mimicking effects of catnip are likely due to terpenes shared with plants like marijuana. These terpenes may interact with cannabinoid receptors and alter perception. But the effects are not pronounced or reliable enough to categorize catnip as a true psychedelic.

Differences between catnip and LSD

Effect Catnip LSD
Visual hallucinations No Yes
Sensory alterations Minimal Profound
Euphoria Sometimes Commonly
Duration 5-15 minutes 8-12 hours

While LSD produces vivid perceptual changes like visual hallucinations and sensory crossover effects, catnip does not induce effects this strong or pronounced. The short duration of catnip compared to an LSD trip also demonstrates that it does not act like a classic psychedelic.

Is catnip similar to stimulants like amphetamines?

For some cats, catnip can induce a hyperactive reaction reminiscent of stimulant drugs like amphetamines. Amphetamines act by increasing brain levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, which produces elevated mood, increased energy and movement, and euphoric effects. Catnip may mildly mimic some of these properties by interacting with similar neurotransmitter systems.

However, important differences between catnip and amphetamines include:

  • Catnip does not increase wakefulness or concentration like amphetamines.
  • Catnip’s period of hyperactivity is brief, while amphetamines can stimulate the nervous system for hours.
  • Catnip causes no subsequent “crash” like amphetamines when it wears off.
  • Catnip has no addiction potential, unlike the high abuse potential of amphetamines.

So while catnip can briefly mimic some effects like hyperactivity and disinhibition similar to a stimulant, it does not produce the same pharmacological profile or duration of effects.


In summary, catnip contains nepetalactone which triggers a unique euphoric and behavioral response when smelled by cats. While catnip may share some properties reminiscent of recreational drugs like marijuana, psychedelics, or stimulants, it does not closely mimic any one category of human psychoactive chemicals.

The catnip reaction represents a phenomenon specifically evolved in cats and mediated through their olfactory system and brain receptors. Nepetalactone binds to different receptor sites than psychoactive drugs used for human recreation. So while catnip may superficially resemble the effects of certain recreational drugs, it induces its own distinct intoxicated state in cats.