I had no idea but that well-known domestic cat ‘psychedelic drug’ called catnip is also an insect and mosquito repellent. It’s a double purpose product. Although I’m not sure you should use it on yourself unless you want your cat climbing all over you behaving in a silly way.
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Apparently, the Romans used catnip, a member of the mint family, to deter insects especially mosquitoes. I wonder whether they realised that it also acted as a hallucinogenic, albeit natural, drug for their cat companions?
A study published in the journal Current Biology tells us that the active ingredient in catnip, nepetalactone, works in a different way to the usual mosquito repellents such as Deet. Whereas Deet leaves insects incapable of recognising the chemical cues that tell them that human prey is around, catnip causes them the sensation of pain which means they avoid it. It activates a receptor known as TRPA1 which is found on the outer membrane of cells. Deet targets the receptors which allows mosquitoes to detect odours and taste.
The TRPA1 receptor is found in humans, fruit flies and flatworms as well but over millions of years of evolution it works in different ways in different species. In insects it is triggered by catnip whereas the same receptor in humans is not. Catnip hurts mosquitoes but not humans.
It is suggested by the co-lead and co-author of the study, Marco Gallio, of Northwestern University, Illinois, USA, that catnip compounds such as nepetalactone evolved to protect these plants from being eaten by insects. But they don’t know why the same compounds do not hurt people. He believes it might just be a happy accident and useful if you want to use catnip as a mosquito repellent and to stimulate your cat.
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