The mental health side effects of weight loss drugs no one is talking about.

It's no secret that weight loss drugs have exploded in popularity. Previously used only in the social circles of Hollywood, the diabetes medication has gone mainstream and swiftly become more in demand than ever before.

Used to restrict hunger and lose weight, it's been dubbed the 'miracle cure' for obesity. The catch? When it comes to the long-term side effects, there's a lot we still don't know.

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Video via Mamamia

In fact, as weight loss medication becomes more widely used, we're beginning to see underlying issues we couldn't see before. Not just physically, but mentally, too.

And according to a pharmaceutical industry whistleblower in the US, we've only just begun to scratch the surface.

So, is the 'miracle drug' for weight loss too good to be true?

Do weight loss injections impact mental health?

Calley Means, author and founder of health tech firm TrueMed, said that semaglutide — the diabetes medication used off label to lose weight — poses a potential safety "disaster." And it's flying under the radar.

In an interview on The Tucker Carlson Encounter, Means cited reports of a series of long-term side effects — including gastrointestinal issues and mental health issues.

Means said that in the U.S., where the drug is approved to treat obesity (the most popular brand is currently used 'off-label' in Australia) up to 30 per cent of patients stopped using it within three months, due to negative gastrointestinal side effects.

It "paralyzes your stomach," he said. "And there are studies now saying that [the inability] … to digest food actually stays after you go off the drug. You’re consistently seeing patients who go off the drugs gain the weight back."

"Your serotonin — what produces your contentment and happiness — 95 per cent is made in the gut," he said, adding weight loss medication "essentially is gut dysfunction."

When Mamamia asked psychologist Carly Dober from Enriching Lives Psychology for her thoughts, she said concerningly, the pharmaceutical manufacturer and national medical database receieved reported feelings of anxiety, panic, depression, and suicidal ideation associated with use of the drug.

"This means that for many people who may or may not ever have thought about suicide before, these thoughts and impulses to act on these thoughts may occur, increase, and be difficult to ignore whilst on the drug," she explained.


"People have also experienced significant mood fluctuations, poor motivation, a sense of hopelessness, images and voices showing and telling them ways that they might harm themselves or end their lives, an overwhelming sense of fatigue, ruminating or racing thoughts, and an impending sense of doom."

While a recent US study has not identified a causal link between taking these drugs and an increase in suicidal thoughts, the FDA has listed it as a potential safety signal.

Meaning? More research is required to clarify the relationship between the use of these drugs and mental health. Because as outlined in this article by health and medical publisher STAT News, figuring out whether the adverse effect is caused by the drug or by the underlying illness the drug is prescribed to treat can be murky.

"Those who are now accessing these weight loss drugs are a very interesting cross-section of the community," said Dober. "We know that any point one in four of us at any time will be experiencing mental health issues, and 50 per cent of us in our life time will have been impacted by mental health issues."

"This means that the drug will be accessed by those who have had historical mental health issues, are experiencing the health issues at the time of taking those drugs, or might develop mental health issues after taking the drug. There will be cases in which the drug only amplifies what is already there, and those who will have never experienced anything like this before in their lifetime."


As Dober goes on to explain, the fact of the matter is — there is still so much we don’t know about the psychiatric effects of these medications. "I think it’s incorrect to assume that these drugs are not potentially harmful, and will not trigger mental health disruptions."

Where does this leave us?

While taking these types of medications will result in weight loss, at some point the results will taper off and your body will stabilise and reach a point where it becomes difficult to lose anymore — you essentially hit a weight loss plateau

For people who suffer from eating disorders and obesity, many experts say these kind of 'quick fixes' don't help to heal a person's relationship with food — it's simply masking the problem. 

"If a fish tank is dirty, you clean the tank. You don’t drug the fish," said Means. "This miracle drug is too good to be true."

Dietician, TV nutritionist and author of Your Weight Is Not The Problem, Lyndi Cohen, shared a similar sentiment with Mamamia in a recent interview. As she told us, we're severely underestimating the long-term side effects of these drugs.  

"I find it really problematic. And I'm worried about early future generations coming through with this kind of culture," she said. "Of course, there are going to be use cases where someone has a clinical need to use a drug like this. However, I feel like for years we've been trying to treat eating disorders with a kind of physical BandAid."


"It's a bit like giving someone gastric banding, but not treating the underlying cause of the issue, which is a deeply unhealthy relationship with food, compounded by years and years of dieting. Instead, we go and give them a physical solution without fixing the fundamental psychology that's driving them to eat compulsively and feel out of control around food."

"There's a mismatch between the way we're trying to treat the problem. I query whether we are making this problem worse than it already is."

As any expert will tell you, one thing rings clear: more short term and long-term research is desperately required. Because eventually, these drugs will be everywhere. 

"The long-term research outcomes are going to be very interesting when it comes to assessing ongoing mental and physical health complications," said Dober.

"I’d also like to see all health care disciplines be trained in how to work effectively with the increased mental health risk when they are on this treatment. I don’t see these drugs going anywhere, I think they’ll only become more readily available as their popularity increases."

If this post brings up issues for you, or you just need someone to talk to, please call Lifeline on 131 114. You can also visit the Lifeline website and the Beyond Blue website.

Feature image: Getty.

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