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Catnip, like other members of the mint family, can be brewed into teas that help digestion and reduce discomfort. Catnip can also be smoked, it works as a slight sedative, providing a sense of calm and tranquility.
Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is an aromatic herb belonging to the mint family. Native to Europe, it now grows in several other continents around the world. It is sometimes considered an invasive weed.
The leaves of the catnip plant are heart-shaped and whitish-gray in color. The plant is a hardy, perennial herb with sturdy stems covered in fine hairs, and grows to around three feet high
Otherwise known as catmint, catswort or fieldbalm, catnip is best-known for its psychoactive effects on felines. It causes a brief intoxication or ‘high’ in cats when they rub against its leaves or chew on it.
Native to Europe, Asia and Africa, catnip was originally brought to North America by settlers. It has a long history of medicinal use as a tea, tincture, infusion, and poultice, and was also smoked and chewed.
Catnip tea was known to have a soothing effect, so it was often used to treat nervous tension and anxiety, headaches, and hysteria. Appalachian culture used catnip to soothe infants with colic. Catnip can also promote sweating, and was often used by traditional practitioners to treat fevers caused by cold, flu, and bronchitis.
Chewing the leaves of the catnip plant was found to relieve toothache while smoking it was found to alleviate asthma and bronchitis .
During the latter half of the 1960s, catnip was said to produce hallucinogenic effects when smoked.
Methods of use
Catnip plants include the Nepeta cataria and other Nepeta species and contain a variety of volatile oils, sterols, tannins and acids.
Catnip’s medicinal properties stem from its active ingredient, nepetalactone. Nepetalactone is a plant terpenoid (an organic chemical) that affects the nervous system of both humans and cats.
Catnip’s soothing properties make it useful in treating colds, flu, fever, and gastrointestinal symptoms. An infusion of catnip leaves may also help to relieve chest congestion.
Simply add two teaspoons of dried flowers or two tablespoons of fresh leaves per 200ml of boiling water. Leave to steep for 5-10 minutes, then strain and drink 1-4 cups a day. Steeping for longer will produce more potent effects.
Catnip tincture can be taken in a glass of water or juice 1-4 times a day to treat colds, nervous tension, insomnia and stomach upsets. It’s also safe for children (one drop per year of age) and can help prevent nightmares.
Pastes or poultices made from catnip are used to reduce swelling associated with soft tissue injuries and joint disorders such as arthritis. It also helps to reduce muscle tension.
The active ingredient in catnip (Nepeta cataria) is the essential oil nepetalactone, which is a terpene comprising two isoprene units and 10 carbons. The plant has been shown to produce a range of medicinal benefits.
Herbalists recommend catnip for alleviating migraine headaches and to relieve insomnia, nervousness and loss of appetite.
Catnip has carminative properties, which means it can improve digestion and relieve gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, flatulence and cramp.
Research has shown that both the nepetalactone and nepetalic acid constituents of catnip have calming and sleep-inducing effects . These mild sedative properties make it useful as a sleep aid and for treating muscle tension and nervous anxiety.
Can you smoke catnip?
Yes, it can be smoked. Catnip used to be smoked in the 60’s, as reported by this article of the Canadian Veterinary Journal.
In the 1960’s, catnip was used in place of marijuana or as a filler in marijuana (…). Even toys for pets were bought to get the catnip for use (…). Because catnip burned too fast by itself, it was usually mixed with tobacco (…). A more intense effect could be obtained by spraying the alcohol extract on tobacco and then smoking it (…).Jeff Grognet – Canadian Veterinary Journal – 1990 – Catnip: Its uses and effects, past and present
Users reports a positive effect like sedation and relaxation.
Well, I’m impressed. I thought there was NO WAY anyone who has tried marijuana could say this got them “high”, but I judged it all wrong. […] I tried this a week ago, no paranoia, no munchies, just chill and sleepy. I was able to sleep through the whole night annnd I’m still aliveStevie – from Smokable Herbs comments
Does smoking catnip produce hallucinogenic effects?
No, catnip is not an hallucinogen. (for humans, that is)
In cats, Nepetalactone exerts its effects on the CNS through the olfactory bulb, causing a euphoric reaction in about 50% to 75% of cats. While researchers say that this effect is not possible in humans, users say otherwise.
Although there is a lack of scientific evidence as to how catnip alters human consciousness, a 1969 study from Monash University reported two ways in which catnip was being used to cause a euphoric effect in humans:
- Smoking the leaves
The authors noted that considerably more catnip than marijuana had to be smoked for a similar effect due to its lower potency and the rapid rate at which it burns.
- Spraying the extract on tobacco before smoking it in a cigarette
This appeared to produce intense and more rapid effects than smoking the leaf form alone. However, the authors also noted that further clinical evidence was required to determine the safety of either method.
More recently, some users claim that smoking low doses (approximately 1.5 grams) produces a calming effect that lasts around two to three hours.
During the short walk, I felt mostly normal, just relaxed, a little refreshed. As I write this I think I recall the outdoors crisp, yet very very slightly washed out, like how colors look on a very old videocamera. I did not notice it at the time, and it may very well have been just a trick of the light reflecting off the melting snow on the ground. I walked to my bedroom, laid down on my bed, and felt very tired, but not sleepy. Just tired, pleasantly lazy. It was nice to lay down.EdHead experience report on Erowid
Others report that it produces a warming effect on the body, along with a sense of calm and relaxation. There are also suggestions that smoking a mixture of catnip and herbs such as Mugwort or Calea Zacatechichi (Mexican dream herb) can have dream-enhancing effects.
Catnip has a few negative side effects:
- Catnip should not be taken during pregnancy as there is evidence it may stimulate the uterus and cause uterine contractions. It may promote menstruation.
- Large doses are reported to cause headaches, nausea, or dizziness. Its sedative effects may mean it is not suitable for use before driving or operating heavy machinery.
- Catnip is not recommended for use in the two weeks prior to surgery as it may alter or slow down the central nervous system.
Catnip is listed as a plant of ‘undefined safety’ by the Food and Drug Administration. However, there appear to be no reports of toxic reactions and it is not illegal.
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Nicolas ‘Axel’ Duval is the founder and content editor of this website. He launched Smokable Herbs in 2011. He later created the Smokably herb online store, which sells herbs and blends worldwide.
As an herbalist and marketing enthusiast, he used Smokable Herbs as a sandbox to test ideas and deploy content.