Ozempic and Wegovy have lower risk of suicidal thoughts than other weight loss drugs: study reveals

As the popularity of weight loss and diabetes drugs has grown, so have concerns about their possible psychiatric side effects.

But a major new study finds that semaglutide — the ingredient in Ozempic and Wegovy — has a significantly lower risk of suicidal thoughts compared to other weight-loss medications.

“We can confidently state that our analyses do not support claims of increased suicidality in patients who are prescribed semaglutide,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The agency was keen to look into semaglutide because it’s also under investigation as a potential treatment for drug addiction.

“It would be vital to ensure it does not cause negative mental health effects to put an already vulnerable population at even greater risk of harmful health outcomes,” Volkow said.

The research, published Friday in Nature Medicine, analyzed the medical records of nearly 1.6 million patients with type 2 diabetes and 240,618 patients with obesity.

Patients who had been prescribed semaglutide were up to 73% less likely than patients prescribed other weight loss or diabetes medications, such as metformin, to report suicidal thoughts while taking the drugs.

“It’s great to see this positive data,” said Dr. Andres Acosta, an associate professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, who was not involved with the new study. “It’s quite exciting to see that these medications do not increase the risk for suicidal ideation.”

Semaglutide, a GLP-1 agonist, works by helping to regulate appetite and insulin levels by targeting glucagon-like peptide 1 receptors (GLP1R) in the body.

The Food and Drug Administration approved Ozempic in 2017 to help manage type 2 diabetes. Wegovy arrived in 2021 to treat obesity.

Prescriptions for the drugs rose dramatically as they hit the U.S. market, increasing by 4,200% from 2018 to 2023, according to Epic Research, a data analysis company.

Since their widespread use, the drugs have been found to act in different ways in the body. One study found that Wegovy can reduce the risk of heart attack and strokes. Some patients reported abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting and more severe stomach problems. Others said they had thoughts of suicide while taking the drugs.

The FDA is looking into reports of these potential side effects.

“The FDA continues to monitor the safety of all approved products, including monitoring for suicidal behavior and ideation associated with use of GLP-1 receptor agonists for all approved uses, and will inform the public and take regulatory action to protect the public health if appropriate,” the agency said in a statement.

Other GLP-1 receptor agonists in the agency’s investigation include Mounjaro, Trulicity and Zepbound.

Novo Nordisk, which makes Ozempic and Wegovy, said in a statement that while the company is “continuously performing surveillance” of the drugs, it “remains confident in the benefit risk profile of the products and remains committed to ensuring patient safety.” Novo Nordisk did not play a role in the new study.

Longer-term research is needed, as the NIDA study only looked at 6 months of data.

“It’s very feasible that someone who is affected by excess weight could be on medication like this for decades,” said Dr. David Creel, a psychologist and registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic. “We need to look for evidence that there could be any problems with long-term use.” Creel was not involved with the NIDA study.

Still, the findings are in line with what doctors say they have generally observed with patients on semaglutide. The drugs work so well so quickly, especially for people trying to lose weight, that mood is generally positive — at least in the short-term.

“If you’ve been trying your whole life to lose weight and nothing’s ever worked, and you’re depressed about it, and then all of a sudden you start taking a medication that’s making moves,” said Dr. Shauna Levy, medical director of the Tulane Weight Loss Center in New Orleans, who was not involved with the new study, “your spirits are going to be lifted.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. You can also call the network, previously known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.


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