Wednesday, Nov. 26, 1969: Catnip high

Posted on November 25th, 2007 – 6:21 PM
By Ben Welter

News you can still use nearly 40 years later, from the Minneapolis Tribune, complete with several examples of how not to use the word “affect”:

Pot It’s Not, But Catnip Sales Soaring

Hallucinogenic Effect Debated

By CHARLES B. McFADDEN
Minneapolis Tribune Staff Writer

In at least one Twin Cities pet shop, it takes a note from his parents nowadays for a teen-ager to lay in any big supply of catnip.

Owners of other stores have taken to questioning their youthful customers closely about large-scale purchases.

They know the reason for the sudden popularity of catnip in the Twin Cities and nationwide – and it isn’t the one a young man gave the owner of a Hennepin Av. pet shop:

  Kids, you can’t smoke this.

“I have,” he explained, “a GREAT, BIG cat.”

The fact is, the kids are smoking the stuff, apparently in dubious pursuit of a low-budget thrill.

What’s more, it’s getting so you can’t even trust your friendly neighborhood dope peddler anymore – there’s evidence that marijuana salesmen are diluting the pot with catnip or substituting catnip altogether.

Local experts – pharmacologists, narcotics officers, health officials and pot users themselves – doubt that catnip has any hallucinogenic qualities at all.

There seems to be no doubt, however, that sales of catnip in the Twin Cities boomed last summer and that current sales, although down some, are continuing above normal.

“We couldn’t keep catnip on the shelf for a while,” said Richard Andersen, owner of four Twin Cities pet centers. “Lots of kids were buying a dozen or two dozen packages at a time. I knew something was abnormal. The cat population couldn’t have increased as much as the sales of catnip. Large-quantity sales have diminished, but they are still going on.”

The manager of a Downtown Minneapolis department store pet shop concurred. “We questioned some of the youthful big buyers of catnip and they admitted they were smoking it,” he said.

Another pet store owner said, “I refuse to sell large quantities of catnip to young people. I know they want to smoke it and I don’t think it’s right.”

Principal reason given for the catnip smoking is that catnip is legal and cheaper than marijuana. Illegal marijuana in the Twin Cities cost[s] $10 to $20 an ounce.

Legal catnip costs about 30 cents for a one-ounce package.

The price differential encourages marijuana pushers, both amateur and professional, to substitute catnip for marijuana, especially in sales to the young and inexperienced buyers.

Whether catnip actually has hallucinogenic qualities, as marijuana does, is debatable.

A University of Minnesota pharmacologist said he was not aware of any demonstrated hallucinogenic qualities possessed by catnip.

“The chemical ingredient in catnip that affects cats is Nepetalactone,” he said. “This doesn’t have a true hallucinogenic affect on cats. It appears to be a sex attractant.”

Thomas Hurney, deputy regional director of the Federal Narcotics Bureau, said the bureau has heard of catnip smoking for a couple of years.

“Millions of Cats” author and Minnesota native Wanda Gag also drew pictures of mushrooms. Hmmm. (Image courtesy mnhs.org)

“Our position is that we know of no component in catnip that would have psycho-pharmacological affects,” he said.

But a Milwaukee psychiatrist and associate professor at Marquette University’s medical school, Dr. Basil Jackson, reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association that he had observed hallucinogenic affects in persons who smoked catnip.

“I’ve seen too many kids who have smoked catnip to have any question in my mind about its affects at all,” he said. “Catnip smoking certainly does produce euphoria and distortion of perception.”

Dr. Jackson pointed out, however, that catnip is not nearly as potent as marijuana. “It is very low level,” he said. “You have to smoke a lot more of it to get turned on and it usually doesn’t turn one on to the same extent as even bad marijuana.”

Since his article appeared in the Journal of the American Medication [doh!] Association, Dr. Jackson has received many reports from throughout the country. He said they indicate to him that the sale of catnip for smoking is “very definitely” still going on.

Told that Twin Cities’ sales of catnip appeared to be slowing up, Dr. Jackson speculated that “it may be that kids thought they were getting a sort of cheap marijuana. If so, they may have been disappointed and are giving it up for that reason.”

One Minneapolis youth, who said he tried smoking catnip, was asked what it did for him. “It made me sick,” he said. “But it did make me feel different.”

Some youths, who claimed to be familiar with the subject, felt catnip was being smoked mostly by “young punks.”

“No one who has smoked marijuana,” one said, “would settle for catnip.”

Others said catnip was sometimes used by marijuana smokers as a filler, to make the marijuana go farther.

Detective George Bendt, head of the Narcotics Division of the Minneapolis Police Department Morals Squad, said, “When we buy what is supposedly marijuana from peddling suspects, we often find that it is catnip – either wholly or in part. I think some marijuana buyers are getting cheated.”

Producers and distributors of catnip generally agree that catnip sales are up, but most say they are unaware of non-feline uses for their product.

However, a spokesman for a Brentwood, N.J., company said, “Sales are up over the amount that would be bought by ordinary cat owners. We haven’t noticed any decline in the usual current demand. I’m sure the catnip-smoking craze has a lot to do with it.

“Sales might be up even more, if we could get more catnip. We, ourselves, can’t get enough catnip to supply our dealers. Catnip grows wild, you know, and you just don’t raise a lot more of it.”

March 1970: Twin Cities high school students were feelin’ groovy in the relative safety of a car. (Minneapolis Tribune photo by Richard Olsenius)

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