Picture of DIY Kitty Crack:  ultra-potent catnip extract
At least two thirds of domestic cats "enjoy" the effects of Nepeta, a.k.a. "catnip." But do they enjoy it enough? If humans were able to isolate the active ingredient in catnip, could we not use it to become omnipowerful CATGODS? Imagine the possibilities! What fool wouldn't want their own personal cat army? A massive fuzzy force with which to execute your every bidding? A united, unquestioning militia that requires nothing other than unfettered access to the super-powerful catnip products that give their adorable cuddly lives meaning?

Nepetalactone is the active ingredient in catnip.* Today we are going to isolate nepetalactone in its pure form through a steam distillation. The distilled liquid will be extracted with an organic solvent (toluene), refined, then evaporated to give the final product.

Now I know what you're thinking: is it safe for cats to be around such a concentrated extract of catnip? Hell yes! Within reason. And we're all reasonable people. Pure nepetalactone has been studied on cats extensively. In fact, "catnip oil" that is available from botanical stores is essentially just nepetalactone, and it is widely used in homeopathic medicine. More details later.

  • Note: pure nepetalactone will not enable you to create a cat army.
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Step 1: Crash course in steam distillation

Picture of crash course in steam distillation
If you've taken any chemistry laboratory classes, or if you have a background in moonshine production, then you know a thing or two about distillation. Heat something up to boiling, then collect the vapors by condensing them into another container. Steam distillation is the same principal and uses the same equipment. The only difference is that you distill something in the presence of water. Steam serves to volatilize certain chemicals, such that they co-boil with the water and can be collected along with the steam when it condenses.

This is particularly useful for extracting plant matter, where the steam serves double duty, breaking open cell walls and releasing volatile oils like nepetalactone. A standard apparatus that you would use in a chemistry lab is shown in the first picture below. Of course, we'll be doing this at home without access to fancy science gadgets.

For this catnip extraction, I've constructed a much simplified apparatus shown in the second picture. The catnip and water goes in the bottom of a big pot, with a cup placed on top. The lid is really the key component here; by simply turning the lid of the pot upside down, the vapors will condense and drip down from the center, collecting in the cup below. By filling the top of the lid with ice water, the vapors are condensed very efficiently.
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Just reading the detractors; The people being critical of natural medicines are the same people that in the nation's early days called tomatoes "love apples" and declared them to be poison. Today's highly trained version of them told us to not eat butter because it was bad for us, eat margarine instead. Now they're telling us that the margarine is bad for us, eat the butter. They told us to not eat eggs because they were bad for our hearts and now they're telling us eat eggs, they're good for you. When I was a kid, my grandmother took us out into the woods to gather flowers, roots and berries which we brought back to the cabin and processed and which Pfizer, Merck and Eli Lillie bought from us, along with the recipes and instructions to sell to you all as legitimate medicine for treating what ails you. Imagine that! We gathered things like Ginseng, Blood Root, May Apple, Willow cambium and a few others that I will never remember.

used to strip cascara bark & sell to Pharm for extra summer cash!

ppdlucas1 month ago

I heard that nepetalactone was also an insect repellant, do you know? Could hardly apply it like regular bug spray, would use it all up without covering a single arm! How would that work?

fred_dot_u5 months ago

I have not yet found a cat to conscript into my cat army, but only tonight have finalized my process to create the kitty crack potion. From about one pound of leaf, I have measured 0.06 grams of the stuff. Perhaps it will lose a bit more volume over time, but there's no smell of toulene. My wife says it's like a strong peppermint, so I must have it right. Oh, golly, get a little bit on the fingers and it lasts forever! During the process, I did not have any murkiness in the upper layers, only in the water and at the interface between the two layers. I thought I was doing something incorrectly, but the final result is a light tan liquid. The 1.4 oz tall shot glasses I used allowed for easier separation, in my opinion. The last stage was a full shot glass of toulene, which evaporated into two drops at the bottom after about 12 hours.

I now have a distillation device, so I should be able to produce the stuff a bit more easily.

Talbotron22, the distiller I have is two flasks in a vertical configuration. The instructions suggest to place the material in the top flask and to use steam from the bottom to extract the essence. Is that better than direct boiling in the bottom?

agiven1 year ago

I do love your sense of humor, but I have to mention in the interest of public feline safety that I disagree with your use of toluene. I am not a chemist, however, and I cannot suggest a safer alternative. I do want your readers to be aware however that not everyone agrees with you on the safety of toluene. I offer a counterpoint:

dtotheg123 agiven6 months ago

A bit late for a response, I actually am a chemist so i hope i can put your mid at ease. Your are absolutely correct that toluene is a toxic substance. However for this extraction its necessary because it is one of the few organic solvents thats not miscible in water. However if you give ample time for the solvent (toluene) to evaporate there will be no trace of it in your product.

Wildfyre Tiger10 months ago

I loved this. At first I was hoping it would show me how to distill my home grown fresh Meowi Wowwi, but hey, better yet, it made me laugh.

Great instructable. What do I need to add to the nepetalactone to create a cat army? Can I at least use this to herd cats?
fred_dot_u1 year ago

I'm performing this instructable in steps and have completed the first few distillation portions. The leftover mush apparently has some active catnip going for it. I dumped it outside under my motion-detection camera and have a number of recordings of the neighborhood cats exploring the remains. Some simply sniff it and depart, while others will spread out completely in the three small piles of mush. A few roll around in it as well.

fred_dot_u1 year ago

A well written instructable.

In step 8, you suggest "add a large quantity of salt (about 1 cup) to the water" while in step 11 using magnesium sulfate as an alternative to ordinary salt. Is it also preferred to use magnesium sulfate in step 8?

w0ot!4 years ago
Are you suggesting we put a couple hand-fulls of frozen water on top of a GLASS lid that is really, really hot? I'm thinking I should use an expendable glass lid...

this is a safe way to do it the glass should be cold as the water starts to boil, and kept cold. i agree that filling a hot lid with cold water is asking for trouble but if it starts cold and stays that way ( keep filling it with ice) it will be fine

aspir8or w0ot!4 years ago
Most glass cooking ware is made from Pyrex, a thermal shock resistant glass.
ya but pyrex dishes have explode on me i still have some glass in my arm lol but seriously be careful even if it is thermal shock resistant it can still explode (U WOULD SAY OUCH!!)
not if you use them properly. ;-)
w0ot! aspir8or3 years ago
Wiki aside, have you ever quenched hot Pyrex? Like raja681 I too have had Pyrex beakers explode.
w0ot! aspir8or4 years ago
kliu81 year ago
I find it funny that safety seems to only be an issue when it comes to chemicals here when animals are involved.
"Say my name."
"You're Goddamn right."
frankiedog2 years ago
do not add extract of yarn and rat to this or before you can seal the bottle every can in your state will be drowinging you in furyiness such a cute way to die agggggggggg i dont want to die disclamer do this at your own risk if you drown in kittehs it is you own falt because u hath been warned
" I analyzed it using gas chromatography/mass spectrometry"
That's science being used for utterly important purposes. :) Seriously, most nerdy/crazy scientist/resource overkill statement I heard the whole year (as if distilling catnip wasn't already overkill)
Btw, I would do the same if I had a mass spectometer laying around. I'm just envious. :]
Pure, distilled science. And cat drugs.
Tim Temple2 years ago
Going out in the wild and collecting cougars and bobcats -- that would make an army.
ALogan973 years ago
Infuse this with a stuffed rat toy and introduce it to a cat; and the results would be disastrous and, may I add, highly entertaining
ALogan973 years ago
I'd like to point out the proper word for a term that you used (omnipowerful), which would be omnipotent
Shadowfury6 years ago
Why waste diethyl ether on such frivolous endeavors? Also, as is mentioned below, there are serious flammability issues associated with diethyl ether.
"Why waste diethyl ether on such frivolous endeavors?"

This statement says to me that you aren't fully grasping how much fun you can have being entertained by super happy high cats. Twice as much diethyl ether would be worth half of the fun of seeing a cat fight his nemesis, a stuffed animal from a claw machine...

But seriously, cats love this stuff...
skidoo4 years ago
talbotron22 wrote: "it is widely used in homeopathic medicine."

"Homeopathic" is an unregulated term in the U.S.

At best it means the "active" substance in solution/pill/whatever has simply been diluted down to pure water, sugar, or, well, sugar-water. At worst it's just a marketing term to hook "natural medicine" adherents into purchasing the product (c.f. Zicam).

In the UK, where homeopathy has seen widespread support over the years, the British Medical Association condemned it as "witchcraft;" the The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee recently released a report concluding that homeopathy is nothing more than a placebo and furthermore that, "The Government should stop allowing the funding of homeopathy on the NHS;" and even more recently, the BMA is calling for an outright ban on the sale of homeopathic "treatments."

Just an FYI.
scorallo skidoo4 years ago
Before you discount it I would suggest finding your nearest homeopathic college or something similar and ask to take part in something called a proving. Im not saying you are wrong or that the reports are wrong all I am saying is that we think we know everything - but theories and things once thought to be fact (as proven by science) are being effectively disproved on a daily basis. Eventually we all have to accept the fact that we do not know everything and that there are some things that science cannot explain yet (notice I said yet). Where would we be without science??? I don't want you to think im some crazy hippie social anarchist rejecting science or anything like that because I'm not - I just think we should all be a little more open to the possibility that we don't know all the factors involved. All that report says to me is that with the information that we have, with what we know now - we cannot prove 100% that Homeopathy works in the way it is portrayed. This, however, does not mean that it is simply a placebo - it may (or may not) just mean that we do not have the ability as of right now to truly understand how or why it does work. We aren’t at the apex of human science and understanding, and nothing is ever truly a case of simple true or false - it's more complicated than that.
skidoo scorallo4 years ago
You presume much. But let's let that slide, and I'll distill my response down to its essentials (pardon the pun).

In homeopathy's corner, we have:

1. No conceivable plausible mechanism of action.

2. No studies whatsoever showing any statistically significant efficacy.

3. A simple syllogistic contradiction in its very principles (i.e. dilution and the Earth's water cycle, etc.).

There "may or may not" be a tiny teapot, orbiting an icy planet in a distant galaxy, so far away that our most powerful telescopes cannot detect it. Why should I care?

The scientific method tells us that the burden of proof rests squarely with the The Tiny Teapot believers. 

You wrote, "...Theories and things once thought to be fact (as proven by science) are being effectively disproved on a daily basis."

The scientific method yields no thing called "fact." Hypotheses are tested, tests are repeated, and after some variable period of time, certain principles get promoted to the status of "theory," or even "law." But NEVER fact.

Science is self-correcting by design. And just as any naturalist or biologist would LOVE to see actual evidence of Bigfoot, imagine the glory of the chemist who's finally able to re-write the book on homeopathy?

Furthermore, promoting magical thinking and pseudoscience, no matter how innocent it seems, causes harm.

Homeopathy kills.
zzoe skidoo3 years ago
I am 95% in agreement with your statement above, but the final site you mention, while justly pointing out certain egregious cases, feels to me as if it indulges in a certain amount of faulty generalization. While i find myself DEEPLY skeptical about homeopathy (and a number of other 'alternative' methodologies), i feel i should point out the following for consideration...
1) Some alternative medical methods and various traditional medicines HAVE been subjected to clinical tests, and have done quite well.
2) One should perhaps be reluctant to create categories where none exist naturally, for example, generalizing alternative treatments negatively may be analogous to the U. S. govt.'s approach to drug and alcohol legality.
3) in short, good science should carefully avoid 'throwing the baby out with the bath water'.
That said, BRAVO! for what you wrote, it needs to be said.
pardon the pun really well i guess nerds like yall have somtin 2 do during weekends
i thought that homeopathy is simply natural treatment of disease and disorders, as the term is often used around these parts, and by which the author of this article probably meant it. i read the medical definition of the term and it seems you guys are right, homeopathy is largely B.S. although i understand that there has been some homeopathic success in treating allergies.

that being said, natural medicine, on the whole, is not hocus pocus. it is legitimate and is frequently a source for modern "traditional" medicine. this is often denied and vehemently denounced by the pharmaceutical companies and their pet politicians.

i am not opposed to the use of modern medicines, but much prefer natural alternatives when they are available and proven as effective.

whether you are using natural or traditional medicine you should always get a second opinion, and always be cautious of "the newest thing". medicine is a source of scam, from "big pharma" to the traveling snake-oil salesman. from the doctor who gets his free lunches from the pfizer rep to the patented, cures-everything, all-natural, drug-free, remedies advertised by your favorite radio host.

sick people are viewed by these swindlers as desperate and therefore easy targets. often this view is accurate, making medicine a VERY lucrative business.
> that being said, natural medicine, on the whole, is not hocus
> pocus. it is legitimate and is frequently a source for modern
> "traditional" medicine. this is often denied and vehemently
> denounced by the pharmaceutical companies and their pet
> politicians.

1. The great majority of so-called "natural medicine" is, in fact, bunk. Otherwise it would be efficiently extracted or synthesized and turned into ACTUAL MEDICINE. C.f. aspirin and countless other examples.

2. Who do you thin owns all of these dubious companies we refer to as purveyors of "natural medicine?" Do some digging and get get back to us. :-)
1. the fact that "real medicine" comes from natural remedies is exactly what i'm talking about. the "efficient extraction or synthesizing" is often really just over processing, renaming, and over charging.

2. i don't often go for pre-packaged "natural remedies". i research the symptoms or illnesses i wish to treat and then i usually pick my own plants or select whole herbs from herbalists. if one of the "purveyors" of an ingredient i wish to obtain happens to be owned by a big pharma company, all well, at least i know what's going in my body, why, and what to expect from it.
You told him! But your are right. The scientific method results are not considered facts. That the method is self correcting, builds upon it's self and reinvents it's self when new information becomes available. Try giving some kid just a little bit of peanut...or someone like me just a bit of bee venom.It's middle ages and ignorant. Like the idea that eating tiger penis will make you a tiger under the sheets or eating monkey brains will make you smart. It's hoc-us- pocus quackery and it can kill.
Thanks! I caught that at the start of the instructable and had a hard time not racing to the bottom to comment on it. LONG LIVE RANDI!!!
well 4 1thing we wouldnt question r maker so often. *rubs head* ow this smart talk is making my head hurt...........
I'm with ya, Skidoo. People who believe in homeopathic remedies cannot be convinced otherwise by logic and science. It's sad and stupid and a waste of time and energy and a gigantic loss of money but it is what it is and I have seen several otherwise intelligent people wander down that road never to return.
Critical thinkers, scientific skeptics, others who support the scientific method and methodological naturalism---call us what you will---we just have to keep educating, educating, and educating. Every once in a while, someone "wakes up." :-)
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