• Mon, Jul 23 2012

Glaxo May Be In The Wrong, But Wellbutrin Can Make You “Happy, Horny, Skinny”

Is Wellbutrin really the “happy, horny, skinny” pill? Legally, no. But unofficially? Well, maybe …

You may have heard that drug maker GlaxoSmithKline was fined $3 million by the Food and Drug Administration for improper branding and marketing of its drug Wellbutrin. The antidepressant –generic name bupropion; also sold as a quit-smoking treatment under the name Zyban — is approved only for these two uses (treating depression and smoking cessation). But doctors have been prescribing it for everything from obesity to bipolar disorder.

Of course doctors prescribe things “off label” — that is, for conditions other than those which the drug was approved to treat — all the time; doing so is not illegal. But it is illegal for pharmaceutical companies to market their meds for non-approved uses. According to Lynn Parramore at AlterNet, Glaxo marketed Wellubtrin to treat conditions including anxiety, biopolar disorder, obesity, sexual dysfunction, weight loss, bulimia and alcohol withdrawal (these last two the label specifically warns against). Glaxo reps apparently pushed the drug as the “happy, horny, skinny pill.” In my experience, that’s pretty accurate.

I’ve taken generic Wellbutrin off and on since 2010, both times prescribed to help me quit smoking. I stopped taking it for a while in 2011 after the first attempt at kicking smoking failed to take (user error, not the drug). I began taking it again earlier this year (an effort that I blogged about here at Blisstree) and have been much more successful this time around. But in addition to nearly killing my desire for cigarettes (and working as an antidepressant), the drug has undoubtedly upped my energy and sex drive and decreased my appetite, both times. These effects do lessen some over time, but haven’t ceased entirely.

[Lest we attribute this to placebo effect, I will admit that before I started taking Wellbutrin the first time I read almost nothing about it. Not knowing that increased energy and libido combined with decreased appetite were common Wellbutrin side effects, I was for quite some time perplexed--though not dismayed--by these developments.]

One of the drug’s biggest advocates was celebrity doctor Drew Pinsky, host of Lifechangers and Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew–though this was long before all that. Back in 1999, when Pinsky was paid $275,000 to push Wellbutrin as an antidepressant that wouldn’t kill your sex drive, he was most well-known for the radio-turned-MTV show Loveline. During one show, he told listeners that the active substance in Wellbutrin “could explain a woman suddenly having 60 orgasms in one night.”

You can read more about the FDA’s complaint against Pinsky and Glaxo here; seems the drug company wasn’t just mis-marketing Wellbutrin but also paying kickbacks to doctors for prescribing it, among other shady things. I don’t mean to suggest anybody comes out looking pretty in this situation.

But leaving the ethics of Pinsky’s failure-to-disclose aside, it is possible that he did really believe in the benefits of Wellbutrin. The sexual side effects of many antidepressants — namely, low sex drive — were one of the first and most common complaints of people taking them. An antidepressant that won’t make you asexual–let alone one that increases your sex drive–was a pretty big deal. The fact that Wellbutrin could make you sex-crazed and skinny isn’t reason enough on its own to take it, of course, considering some of the less desirable side effects. But it could make you sex-crazed and skinny. That’s all I’m saying.

Share This Post:
  • NotThumper

    leave it to me to not experience any of those side effects…
    I have the worst luck. It had the opposite effect on me, at least in the “horny” aspect. I also wouldn’t call me “happy” but I’m certainly not depressed.

    • Elizabeth Nolan Brown

      Well, it also made me super sensitive to alcohol, so I can hardly drink; not all fun side effects!

    • Elizabeth Nolan Brown

      A friend on Facebook said everyone she knows who’s taken Wellbutrin has experienced weight GAIN, so …

  • Nancy

    But it’s not you. It’s the pill. If you need a pill to make it happen, it’s not you.
    Where are the changes when you stop taking it? What happens to the authentic you when you finally do?

    Diet pills made many women “skinny” and when they stopped taking them, their metabolism was screwed up and they were fatter (and more depressed and self-loathing) than they were before they started taking them.

    Exercise, sleep, reasonable diet, etc. Patience. No one wants to make the effort. Everyone wants the answer in a pill.

    There is a cost to the quick-fix. This article doesn’t mention this, which is quite possibly irresponsible and certainly a shame.

    • Elizabeth Nolan Brown

      Well, no, this post is specifically *not* recommending marching into your doctor and asking for Wellbutrin as a diet pill or sex aid or whatever. All I’m trying so say is that if you’re on it for other reasons, those are side effects that could happen, and they did happen to me while taking it to quit smoking. Nothing right or wrong about it, just … is.

  • JC

    I realized quickly that this pill was a bad idea to prescribe to treat my anorexia and got a new shrink.

    • Elizabeth Nolan Brown

      Ha. Good call …

  • Nancy

    Whatever. Try to become “happy, horny and skinny” and “not depressed” and “not addicted” permanently on one’s own. Without the aid of pharmaceuticals. For real. Without the risk of it not only ending when the pill stops but being replaced by a far worse state of affairs.

  • Nancy

    Your mileage may vary. Caveat patiens.