You may have heard some interesting news about methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) recently. Researchers are studying the drug for its potential benefits in treating certain mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression.

Maybe this has you wondering about its usefulness for treating other conditions such as bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder is a complex mood disorder that affects around 5 million adults in the United States. It’s marked by extreme changes in mood, with episodes of mania and depression. There are several types of bipolar disorder, and symptoms depend on the type.

The exact cause of the condition is still unknown, which can make diagnosis and treatment challenging.

Presently, MDMA isn’t being studied for use with bipolar disorder. Scientists worry that using MDMA may trigger mania or other mood-related symptoms for people with bipolar disorder.

Let’s take a closer look at MDMA’s effects on bipolar disorder.

Also known as “ecstasy” or “molly,” MDMA has both hallucinogenic and stimulant effects. It increases levels of the brain chemicals serotonin, norepinephrine, and, to a lesser extent, dopamine.

Increased serotonin levels may provide positive effects such as pleasure, increased energy, and elevated mood. As the effects lessen, though, the lower levels of serotonin in the body may make depression and irritability worse, and cause memory problems. Long-term use of high doses of MDMA can increase other risks.

Currently, MDMA is a Schedule I category drug based on the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) controlled substance regulations. This means it has a high potential for misuse and addiction and is illegal to use, buy, or sell.

Today, the drug is legally available to scientists through research studies for medical use purposes. But this may soon change based on the results of ongoing studies.

MDMA side effects can include:

Effects from long-term use include:

There’s still a lot we don’t know about MDMA’s side effects based on dosage for medical use.

Can MDMA cause bipolar disorder?

Most likely not. However, there have been reports of people developing psychotic symptoms after using recreational MDMA.

It’s difficult to pinpoint whether MDMA or something else led to psychosis in these cases. Since the drug isn’t regulated, it’s often tainted. People may also use other substances such as cannabis along with MDMA, which increases the risk of psychosis.

So, it’s possible for MDMA to cause psychosis in some people. More research is needed to understand the relationship between MDMA use and psychosis, including risks for those who have bipolar disorder. Research shows adolescents may be especially vulnerable to the effects of MDMA when used together with other illicit substances.

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Using recreational MDMA if you have bipolar disorder may be risky for several reasons.

Risks include:

  • possible worsening of your condition
  • serious side effects
  • drug interactions with other medications you may be taking

Keep in mind, your specific reaction to MDMA will depend on many factors, such as:

  • your age
  • using other substances that may be mixed with illegal MDMA
  • your mental health
  • other medications you may be taking
  • your overall health condition

There are several types of bipolar disorder, and symptoms (mania, hypomania, or depression) vary based on the type. The effects of MDMA may depend on both the type of disorder and the particular phase of the condition you’re experiencing.

Studies have shown that MDMA can cause hormonal changes such as increased cortisol, oxytocin, and testosterone levels. Increases in cortisol levels are related to stress. This, in turn, can lead to more intense episodes of mania or depression.

MDMA may provoke a manic episode in some people with bipolar disorder because the drug increases serotonin levels. Once the effects of MDMA start to wear off, low serotonin levels may trigger depression.

Your reaction to MDMA depends on the severity of your condition and the phase of bipolar you’re experiencing.

There’s still a lot we don’t know. This is why scientists believe more research is needed to learn about the safety of MDMA for bipolar disorder.

Can MDMA be used to treat symptoms of bipolar disorder?

Scientists are currently studying the potential benefits of psychedelics such as psilocybin, MDMA, and mescaline for treating some mental health conditions.

Experts believe it’s risky to use recreational MDMA with bipolar disorder because it can potentially trigger an episode of psychosis or other mood changes. The drug can also interact with commonly used prescription medications used to treat bipolar disorder and cause serious reactions such as serotonin syndrome.

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There’s limited information about possible interactions between MDMA and other medications, including those used for bipolar disorder, but MDMA and commonly used bipolar medications do have some similar side effects. Taking them together may increase the risk of serious reactions.

There are several types of medications used to treat bipolar disorder.

They include:

  • lithium
  • anticonvulsants (divalproex sodium, valproic acid)
  • antipsychotics (risperidone, olanzapine, quetiapine)
  • benzodiazepines (alprazolam, diazepam)
  • fluoxetine/olanzapine (Symbyax)
  • antidepressants
    • monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) – phenelzine, tranylcypromine
    • serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) – citalopram, fluoxetine,
    • serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) – desvenlafaxine, duloxetine
    • tricyclic antidepressants – amitriptyline, nortriptyline

Some common side effects of these medications and MDMA include:

  • confusion
  • dehydration
  • muscle-related problems
  • headache
  • agitation
  • dry mouth
  • increased blood pressure
  • fast heart rate

Medications such as SSRIs can interact with MDMA and cause serotonin syndrome, a serious condition that happens when serotonin levels build up in the body. This can be life threatening.

Symptoms include:

  • fast heart rate
  • agitation
  • anxiety
  • disorientation
  • raised body temperature
  • muscle spasms
  • nausea, vomiting
  • restlessness
  • sweating
  • tremors
  • seizures
  • coma

If you feel you’re experiencing a life-threatening emergency, call 911 or local emergency services or go to an emergency medical center right away.

If you’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, your doctor will discuss various treatment options. These include:

The best treatment for you depends on your specific symptoms and how you respond to treatment and therapy. Taking your medications as prescribed along with therapy is an important part of staying healthy.

Taking recreational MDMA on your own could lead to serious side effects or worsening of your mental health symptoms. Not much is known about MDMA’s effects on bipolar disorder.

MDMA is currently not regulated. Products available recreationally are often laced with other substances, which can cause unknown reactions. If you have questions about whether MDMA could help with your symptoms, talk with a doctor first.

There’s promising research ongoing looking into MDMA’s benefits for treating various mental health conditions such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety. New research shows promise, and we should learn more soon.

If you have a mental health condition and are looking for help or support, several organizations have resources available.

Here’s a list of organizations you can consider contacting: