Past therapies for the treatment of obesity have typically involved pharmacological agents usually in combination with a calorie-controlled diet. This paper reviews the efficacy and safety of pharmacotherapies for obesity focusing on drugs approved for long-term therapy (orlistat), drugs approved for short-term use (amfepramone [diethylpropion], phentermine), recently withdrawn therapies (rimonabant, sibutamine) and drugs evaluated in Phase III studies (taranabant, pramlintide, lorcaserin and tesofensine and combination therapies of topiramate plus phentermine, bupropion plus naltrexone, and bupropion plus zonisamide). No current pharmacotherapy possesses the efficacy needed to produce substantial weight loss in morbidly obese patients. Meta-analyses support a significant though modest loss in bodyweight with a mean weight difference of 4.7 kg (95% CI 4.1 to 5.3 kg) for rimonabant, 4.2 kg (95% CI 3.6 to 4.8 kg) for sibutramine and 2.9 kg (95% CI 2.5 to 3.2 kg) for orlistat compared to placebo at ≥12 months. Of the Phase III pharmacotherapies, lorcaserin, taranabant, topiramate and bupropion with naltrexone have demonstrated significant weight loss compared to placebo at ≥12 months. Some pharmacotherapies have also demonstrated clinical benefits. Further studies are required in some populations such as younger and older people whilst the long term safety continues to be a major consideration and has led to the withdrawal of several drugs.