Are Generic Medications as Effective as Brand Medications? Here’s What Science Shows

Generic Medications

If your doctor prescribes a medication, the pharmacy may offer you a brand medication or a generic one. Generic medications are also known as “copies” or “biosimilars.” When you see the price difference, you might be tempted to buy the generic and save money. But is this smart? First, you must understand what generic medications are and how they differ from branded ones.

How Do Brand and Generic Medications Differ?

A brand medication is a pharmaceutical drug with a patent. A patent is a legal document that gives its owner the exclusive right to produce, use, or sell an invention for a fixed period. This means only that company can produce and sell a brand medication until the patent expires.

This can be an incredibly beneficial situation for the company, as they are the only ones legally allowed to produce and sell the product. In addition, the company will often have an easier time getting its product to market since they don’t have to worry about competing with other similar products. However, patents eventually expire, and when that happens, other companies are free to produce and sell the same medication and that’s when generics enter the market.

Generics Are Less Expensive

A brand medication is almost always more expensive than its generic counterpart because pharmaceutical companies market it as a branded drug. Brand medications are also known as proprietary drugs or trade-name drugs. The pharmaceutical company paid for the research to develop the drug and to ensure it was safe and effective. Plus, they have to market the medication and increase awareness of it through advertising. So, it’s not surprising that brand drugs are more expensive than generics.

Brand medications can cost tens of thousands of dollars per year for a single patient. However, this high cost does not necessarily mean a drug is better at treating or curing illness than generics. Generic drugs treat the same medical conditions as their brand-name counterparts. Because they’re not as well-known and don’t have millions of dollars of marketing behind them, generic drugs are usually cheaper than their brand-name counterparts.

Do Brand Medications Work Better than Generics?

All medications must meet federal safety standards, and that includes generics. The FDA requires that generic medications contain the same amount of active ingredient(s) as their brand-name equivalents. But generics can vary slightly in inactive ingredients such as binders or fillers.

The FDA approves generics on the basis that they are bioequivalent to their brand-name counterpart — meaning they contain the same active ingredient and work in essentially the same way. They must also have similar effectiveness, quality, and safety as the brand medication. However, as stated, there may be differences in inactive ingredients, such as colors or flavors, which can affect how a drug tastes or appears.  If you’re sensitive to certain inactive ingredients, check with your doctor before switching to a generic medication.

It’s Possible to Be Sensitive to Some of the Ingredients in Generic Medications

Although generic and brand medications theoretically behave similarly because their active ingredients are the same, healthcare providers know that people taking these medications may experience different side effects due to the binders and other inactives that pharmaceutical companies use in making these medications.

Some of these ingredients are for quality control, like preserving moisture or making capsules easier to swallow. While most of these substances do not affect how well a drug works or how safe it is, it’s possible to be sensitive to one or more inactive ingredients in a generic medication.

Although brand and generic medications should work the same, the side effects may differ based on individual tolerances. For example, you could experience mild nausea when you take a generic medication because of the binder used to make the drug. There are numerous reports of people having a harder time tolerating generic medications. Also, generic drug makers can violate good manufacturing practices and not comply with the rules. So, know as much as possible about the generic medications you take and who makes them.

Should You Choose a Generic Medication?

If you don’t experience side effects from taking a generic medication, you could save considerable money switching from the brand to the generic. Cost savings can vary from 20% to 80%, depending on the medication. However, in some cases, the cost savings may not be as pronounced as you would expect. If a company producing a generic has little competition, it may jack the price up.

If there are significant cost savings, it might be worth trying the generic and seeing how you respond. If you experience side effects you didn’t have on the brand medication, you could always switch back. But be aware that the inactive ingredients in generic medications could slightly alter the absorption of the medication and subtly affect its action in your body or the side effects that you experience. However, there shouldn’t be major differences, and the drug should still be effective.

The Bottom Line

It’s important to understand the differences between brand and generic medications to make informed decisions about your medication. Brand medications may offer more convenience, but generic medications give you the same active ingredients at a lower cost. Although they should work the same, it’s possible inactive ingredients in some generics could modestly reduce the effectiveness of the medication under certain circumstances. Plus, it’s possible to be sensitive to some of the inactive ingredients. If it’s an important medication that you need for your health, talk to your doctor about whether a generic is a good option for you.


  • “Generic Drug Facts | FDA.” 01 Nov. 2021, fda.gov/drugs/generic-drugs/generic-drug-facts.
  • “Do generics work as well as name brands? Maybe not – CBS News.” 13 May. 2013, cbsnews.com/news/do-generics-work-as-well-as-name-brands-maybe-not/.
  • “Do generic drugs compromise on quality? – Harvard Health.” 12 Feb. 2021, health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/do-generic-drugs-compromise-on-quality.
  • “Generic vs. brand-name drugs: what’s the difference?”. 2023. Www.Humana.Com. https://www.humana.com/pharmacy/medication-information/difference-between-generic-and-brand-drug.
  • “The Differences between Brand Name and Generic Medications”. 2023. Vcahospitals.Com. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/the-differences-between-brand-name-and-generic-medications.

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