‘Like a switch had flipped’: Researchers probe if Ozempic treats a 'whole range of addictive' behaviors

‘Like a switch had flipped’: Researchers probe if Ozempic treats a 'whole range of addictive' behaviors
A pharmacist in 2019 (Creative Commons)

Anyone who watches a lot of MSNBC and CNN has been inundated with pharmaceutical ads, including pitches for semaglutide — which is known for treating Type 2 diabetes and is also used as an anti-obesity medication. Cable news largely appeals to older Baby Boomer and Gen-X viewers, who pharma companies reason are more likely to become semaglutide customers.

Semaglutide is sold under brand names that include Rybelsus, Wegovy and Ozempic (whose jingle is based on the 1975 Pilot hit "Magic").

According to Atlantic science/medical writer Sarah Zhang, semaglutide has uses beyond treating diabetes and obesity — including discouraging addictive behaviors in general.

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In an article published by The Atlantic on May 19, Zhang explains, "As semaglutide has skyrocketed in popularity, patients have been sharing curious effects that go beyond just appetite suppression. They have reported losing interest in a whole range of addictive and compulsive behaviors: drinking, smoking, shopping, biting nails, picking at skin. Not everyone on the drug experiences these positive effects, to be clear, but enough that addiction researchers are paying attention. And the spate of anecdotes might really be onto something."

Zhang adds, "For years now, scientists have been testing whether drugs similar to semaglutide can curb the use of alcohol, cocaine, nicotine, and opioids in lab animals — to promising results."

It isn't hard to understand why there would be a heavy demand for drugs used to treat Type 2 diabetes, which has become increasingly common in the United States in recent decades. The term "diabesity" has come to describe a combination of diabetes and obesity.

Semaglutide was developed to address a common problem, and according to Zhang, researchers are finding that it affects the brain along with the pancreas.

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"Originally developed for diabetes, semaglutide prompts the pancreas to release insulin by mimicking a hormone called GLP-1, or glucagon-like peptide 1," Zhang notes. "First-generation GLP-1 analogs — exenatide and liraglutide — have been on the market to treat diabetes for more than a decade. And almost immediately, doctors noticed that patients on these drugs also lost weight — an unintended but usually not unwelcome side effect…. Experts now believe GLP-1 analogs affect more than just the pancreas."

Zhang continues, "The exact mechanism in weight loss is still unclear, but the drugs likely work in multiple ways to suppress hunger, including but not limited to slowing food's passage through the stomach and preventing ups and downs in blood sugar. Most intriguing, it also seems to reach and act directly on the brain."

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Read The Atlantic's full report at this link (subscription required).

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