Image: Bettina Makalintal

Puff, Puff, Pounce: the Best Artisanal Catnip Is Made by Stoners

“I really like the concept of packing a bowl for me, and packing a bowl for [my cats].”

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Jun 26 2015, 2:00pm

Image: Bettina Makalintal

Figaro, a colossal woolly cat with a goofy underbite and a sweet temperament, is jonesing for a fix. I'm trying to pour him a mound of catnip, but he catches the scent as soon as I open the bag and starts meowing manically, eyes like dinner plates, circling my ankles and trying to knock it out of my hand.

"We'd joke about if they had the options for catnip that we had for weed."

He won't give me a clean shot at the floor, so I sprinkle a bit by his paws and a bit on his head. He licks it up frantically, first off the floor, then the remaining particles out of his fur. A minute passes and he suddenly looks dazed, flopping on his side like a kitten. He rolls over, swipes halfheartedly at the camera, and splays out on the hardwood floor to chill out with me for the better part of an hour, a satisfied expression on his toothy face (his stupor doesn't last; later the same evening, he grabs the entire bag and rips it open with his teeth).

Shea. Image: Goodnip

Figaro is spaced out on Goodnip's "Purrple Haze," which according to founder Brendan Shea is no ordinary retail catnip. It's organic, meticulously sourced, and marketed with an unmistakable eye toward stoners, with blends like "White Windowsill" and "Mice Dream" sold in tiny ziplock baggies emblazoned with bright, EDM-style cartoon yarn balls, bird cages and scratching posts.

"I really like the concept of packing a bowl for me, and packing a bowl for [my cats], and just getting our vibe out," says Shea, who has short curly hair, a scruffy beard and an easy, early-30s manner. "It's the fucking weekend."

Shea, who is candid about his fondness for weed, says that he started riffing with friends about marketing artisanal catnip years ago, after Leafly became his go-to online database for information about the purportedly distinct psychoactive effects of different cannabis strains.

"We'd joke about if they had the options for catnip that we had for weed," he says.

Image: Goodnip

The running gag led him to wonder: did different cultivations, growing conditions, and grinds of catnip cause different effects in cats, the way many marijuana smokers believe that Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica cause different effects in humans? He started buying every variety he could find at pet stores, and eventually from individual farmers across the United States. He tested it out on his cats: on Eduardo, who he rescued from a construction site about five years ago, and on Dee, who he adopted because Eduardo seemed lonely, but who doesn't seem to like catnip as much.

He became convinced that Eduardo and Dee preferred certain types of catnip, and even that they affected them differently, causing them to become playful or sleepy. Wondering whether those effects were consistent between cats, he ordered even more catnip—a few dozen pounds, by his reckoning—and recruited friends to give their cats blind samples and report the results. Sometimes, he'd provide catnip to feral cats near his collaborative workspace in Somerville and take notes on their behavior.

Eventually, Shea selected three varieties, all sourced from organic farms on the West Coast: Mice Dream tends to cause a euphoric rush, he says, White Windowsill is for "cats looking to experiment for the first time," and Purrple Haze is associated with an upbeat bliss. He also recruited friends Aaron Panone and Joshua Resnikoff—both known for designing Cuppow, an ur-hipster screw-on lid for Ball canning jars—to pull together a business around the concept. They settled on the name Goodnip, designed packaging, ordered a staggering 300 pounds of catnip and launched a web store that features an astonishingly high density of drug references ("Become a Dealer," for example, reads a link aimed at pet goods wholesalers).

Image: Goodnip

Surprisingly little seems to be known about catnip compared to drugs that are psychoactive to humans. Researchers believe that the compound nepetalactone, which occurs naturally in the plant, binds to an olfactory receptor in cats that causes alterations in behavior that might be anthropomorphized as euphoria or relaxation. It affects big cats including cougars and leopards; about one in five house cats don't seem to be affected by it.

Shea isn't sure that Goodnip will become cash positive, but he says it's already a success in his mind because it's given him a chance to talk to two of his idols: snowboarder Danyale Patterson and rapper Danny Brown, both known cat lovers. He ended up sending samples to both, who reported that their cats—Brown's are Siren and Chie and Patterson's is Mr. Will—seemed pleased with the product.

"He loves it," Patterson told him. "It's all natural just like weed."

Shea's boldest attempt to promote Goodnip was when he flew to Los Angeles earlier this month to attend CatCon, an inaugural cat convention sponsored by Animal Planet and Rachael Ray's Nutrish, and featuring Simon Tofield and Lil' Bub. He registered too late to secure a vendor booth, so he packed a duffel bag full of Goodnip—"I know this looks sketchy," he told a TSA representative at the airport—and walked around the convention, handing baggies to attendees like a drug dealer at a playground. In the late afternoon, he says, he was approached by two men with radios.

"You gotta get the fuck out of here," he recalls one of them saying, as he grabbed his arm and dragged him toward the exit.

"Dude," he replied, indignant, "we're at a cat convention!"