Weight loss with Ozempic has garnered enormous buzz on social media. Even though it’s a treatment for Type 2 diabetes, many people are using the medication off-label to shed pounds — a famous side effect.
But other known common side effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain and constipation, according to Novo Nordisk, the pharmaceutical giant that makes Ozempic.
Demand for the drug, which patients self-inject once a week, has been so high that it has led to shortages for people who need it for Type 2 diabetes and fueled a cottage industry for people who want to get a prescription without seeing a doctor in person.
Ozempic is still listed as "currently in shortage" by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
What is it like to actually take the drug and what happens when you stop?
NBC News senior consumer investigative correspondent Vicky Nguyen talked with three people who used the medication: Shea Murray, a single parent with Type 2 diabetes; Ebony Wiggins, who also has diabetes; and Danielle Baker, who says she was prescribed the drug to lose weight.
Ozempic has not been approved as a weight-loss drug by the FDA — that designation has gone to Novo Nordisk's other drug, Wegovy, which contains the same medication, semaglutide. But Ozempic can lead to weight loss, an outcome mentioned in ads for the medication. Two of the three women TODAY interviewed did lose pounds.
Semaglutide is in a class of drugs that work in the brain’s hunger centers. It mimics a hormone that makes you feel full longer, reduces food cravings and suppresses your appetite. The medication also slows down stomach emptying, so patients are satisfied with smaller portions and feel less hungry overall.
“I didn’t even think of (food). ... Looking at a bag of Doritos was kind of like looking at a pair of socks,” Murray said.
Murray says if they ate too much, they would feel nauseated. Wiggins and Baker had a similar experience.
“No matter how little I seem to eat in that sitting…. I would get nauseous or I would throw it up,” Wiggins said.
“I definitely ate less. … I just didn’t feel good. Even just drinking water would kind of upset my stomach and make me feel a little nauseous,” Baker added.
Cravings come back after treatment stops
While not everyone experiences side effects, Baker says she felt constant headaches in addition to the daily nausea. The discomfort made her stop taking the drug after three months. She didn’t expect what happened next.
“Everything came back full force,” Baker recalled. “Like the all the crazy cravings that I’ve struggled with for the sweets, the junk food. And I felt like I was overcompensating.”
Baker’s weight didn’t drop. She gained 8 pounds while on Ozempic and after stopping the treatment, gained another 20 pounds, she said.
Murray hoped Ozempic would put their Type 2 diabetes into remission. But after two-and-a-half months, their insurance coverage changed and they lost access to the drug. Their relationship with food changed, too.
“For the first I’d say a week-and-a-half, I still had that like numbness to the food cravings. And then suddenly it was like my body woke up and discovered, ‘Hey, I like bread,’” Murray recalled. “Ozempic is not like a magic pill. You still have to work at exercise and knowing your portion control.”
They said they have to fight the urge to eat and are working extra hard to control their weight and diabetes.
Wiggins was on Ozempic for about six months and lost 25 pounds together with diet and exercise. When she stopped taking the medication, her appetite also came roaring back.
In a statement to NBC News, Novo Nordisk said it does not promote, suggest or encourage off-label use of Ozempic. Because the drug is not approved for weight loss, it wasn’t studied for “weight changes following discontinuation,” the company noted.
Dr. Priya Jaisinghani, an endocrinologist at NYU Langone, clinical assistant professor at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and a physician certified with the American Board of Obesity Medicine, said the women experienced known Ozempic side effects.
An abrupt end to any weight-loss plan can have a rebound effect, she added. Jaisinghani advised people who are taking any medication to lose pounds to talk to their doctor about including a nutritionist to help with meal planning, staying active and looping in a fitness expert, and consulting mental health expert like a psychologist or psychiatrist.
Ozempic gets a lot of attention, but there are other drugs to talk to a doctor about, including Wegovy, Contrave and Saxenda. Unlike Ozempic, those medicines are all FDA-approved for weight loss.
Patients have to keep taking drugs like Wegovy for them to work — otherwise, they regain much of the weight back, studies have shown. It's not a medication to be used for cosmetic reasons but to treat obesity, doctors say.
There is also the question of cost: The majority of insurance plans, including Medicare, don’t cover anti-obesity drugs.
The three people interviewed for this story told TODAY they are no longer taking Ozempic, but successfully managing their diabetes and weight, and making lifestyle changes to improve their overall health.
Wiggins was recently prescribed Mounjaro, another medication for Type 2 diabetes, because Ozempic is difficult to find. She hasn’t started taking the new drug yet for her diabetes, because she said she has to prepare herself mentally for the injection and the side effects she might experience.