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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Sunday 29th April 2012

On 20th April, the Huffington Post, in its comedy section, gave a guide to Cannabis sativa, marijuana, featuring stock photos of dogs looking weird though the piece stressed that there was no reason to believe the dogs had consumed pot1.

It would be easy to get side-tracked by looking into the reported effects of marijuana on dogs because there’s been quite a lot written about it, including a splendid ‘Paragraph 19’ story from Denver2. A ‘Paragraph 19’ story is one where the impression given by the headline is completely debunked lower down the story. In this case ‘pot can kill your dog’ in the headline becomes ‘none of the dogs treated for marijuana toxicity at Aspen Meadow have died’ actually in the fifteenth paragraph, of sixteen.

(I’m fighting the temptation to point out to the Westword that ‘none of the dogs HAS died’ but that’s a side-track from a side-track.)

What I want to write about is that Huffington Post partnered its dogs and cannabis story with one featuring a compilation of YouTube videos of cats on catnip.3

I’ve written before about Nepeta faassenii, catmint, and its effect on cats. On 14th August last year, I wrote;

‘It is well-known that cats are attracted to catmint, or catnip as it is sometimes called. There is little doubt that the plant is psychoactive for felines but, I think, calling it ‘cannabis for cats’, whilst alliteratively pleasing, is wrong. Its effect on cats seems to be exciting, at least initially, rather than the sort of calming ‘chilling out’ effect usually ascribed to cannabis. Mind you, the excitation does seem to be of limited duration and is followed by a more narcotic effect.

Nepeta faassenii, catmint

‘It was the effect of Nepeta faassenii on the feral cat who lived in the Alnwick Garden that gave me the title ‘Is That Cat Dead?’ for my book. Digger, a female cat who appeared on the site early in the construction phase, would come into the Poison Garden, almost every afternoon, thrash around in the catmint and then, when the excitation subsided, sleep it off under the Artemisia absinthium. The sleep was so deep that numerous visitors would ask about her condition and I’m not convinced there were not some who really thought we would leave a dead animal on display.

‘I have had, thankfully just a few, people ask if the cat pictured on the cover of the book is dead. One reason I went with that design was that it only takes a brief application of common sense to realise that no-one would think that was a good way to encourage sales. And applying common sense is so often the best way of approaching the more extravagant claims about poisonous plants and their effects.’

After last week’s appearances at the HASC inquiry into drugs policy by Peter Hitchens and Kathy Gyngell I can’t help wondering how many of the people who agree with their views that there is something inherently wrong in taking psychoactive substances like nothing better than to watch their pet cats playing around with a catmint impregnated toy.


1.Facts About Marijuana: High Dogs Give 420 Crash Course Huffington Post 20th April 2012
2.No sharing, stoners: Vet says pot can kill your dog Denver Westword 14th April 2010
3.9 Cats On Catnip: A 4/20 Feline Odyssey Huffington Post 20th April 2012


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