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It’s sad to see little animals being experimented on, but using humans as test subjects? Why not? At least we choose the role, and we get paid.
For example, a few years ago I agreed to take ten pills, one-per-day for ten days, and to keep a record of any side effects.
There were no problems, and I really didn’t expect any, because the pills were simply aspirin with some new coating that needed testing.
I was paid only $40 for participating in that study, which is pretty much as low as it goes. That’s okay, because I wanted to add “being a human guinea pig” to the list of ways I’ve made money.
However, the pay can be much higher. For example, consider the dozens of people who have volunteered to lie in bed for three months for the NASA Bed Rest Study.
They were paid $15,000 each! And at The Institute for Space Medicine and Physiology in France, volunteers were paid $17,000 to lie in bed for two months.
That’s not too bad for a couple months of reading, playing video games and watching TV.
If you want to get paid to be a human guinea pig there are a number of opportunities around the country at any given time.
Some of them are dangerous, others boring or uncomfortable, and a few are interesting and lucrative. Let’s take a look…
The Risks and Rewards
To some extent your pay as a test subject is dependent on the risks. An aspirin each day for ten days isn’t very dangerous, so I was paid only $40.
On the other hand, what if you had to have the H1N1 flu virus squirted up your nose?
Yes, researchers paid people to get the flu, in order to develop better vaccines. They infected about 100 people with the H1N1 virus, and then monitored the symptoms as the flu developed in them.
Test subjects were kept in an isolation ward for nine days, reading or watching movies. They were paid $3,000 each.
If you’re in good health a flu isn’t likely to kill you, but people do sometimes die from medical research tests.
In fact, they had to stop human trials at John Hopkins University after a healthy young woman died a month into an asthma study.
Fortunately deaths during clinical trials are rare here in the states. On the other hand, in India in recent years 2,500 people have died while participating in medical research.
Okay, before you scratch “be a human guinea pig” off your to-do list, I should mention that there are several approaches, some of which are much safer than others. For example, you could…
- Volunteer for experiments with reasonably low risks.
- Volunteer for experiments involving risks you already face.
- Volunteer for psychological experiments.
- Take bigger risks to make more money.
Let’s look at these one at a time…
Participate in Low-Risk Experiments
Some experiments are obviously safer than others. For example, lying in bed for NASA has its risks, but it’s a reasonable assumption that it’s safer than taking a lot of drugs which haven’t been previously tested on humans.
In calculating your risk you should also consider personal factors. For example, since I’ve never been allergic to anything, and have never had a problem with aspirin, taking those ten pills was a pretty safe experiment.
You can search for relatively low-risk experiments in various ways. For example, I just entered “diet” in the NIH Clinical Center search page and got dozens of results.
They included a study in which participants will take fish oil capsules for 10 weeks. That seems pretty safe.
You can also peruse the many clinical trials available (see the resources below), and pick out the ones that appear to be safer.
Participate in Research on Your Existing Risk Factors
Some research requires healthy volunteers, who might then risk that health. But other research looks at existing conditions or risk factors, so participating may not add much risk.
For example, you might not want to smoke cigarettes for an experiment, but what if you already smoke? In that case, you might volunteer to be studied, as Elliott Sharp did.
Sharp made almost $2,000 participating in various tobacco-related studies. In one experiment he was paid $400 to be deprived of tobacco for 8 hours daily for 5 days, while he reported on his cravings.
Being that kind of human test subject might have decreased his health risks.
If you have a particular medical condition you can also participate in clinical trials as a way to get free treatment and make some cash.
For example, the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation Clinical Trial Finder lists hundreds of studies that need volunteers. The Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration lists clinical trials open to volunteers with various brain disorders.
Participate in Psychological Experiments
Okay, so you want to be a human guinea pig, but don’t want to take any risk. What can you do? Participate only in psychological experiments, which have almost no risk of harm.
For example, New York University’s paid research studies currently include a decision-making experiment that requires you to answer questions for $20 per hour.
Another study has you read information and find ways to communicate it. That one pays $40 for the 90-minute experiment.
Later in this article you’ll find a list of places looking for test subjects, and at least six of them need volunteers for psychological studies.
What’s involved in being a test subject for psychological research? Naturally that depends on the nature of each experiment, but for a general idea you can read about the experiences of other volunteers. Here are three examples:
- Andreea Manole had blood oxytocin levels tested during attention-based tasks.
- J.D. Roth was paid $120 to answer various questions about money for an hour while in an MRI scanner.
- Halina Zakowicz was paid $1,500 to gamble for 15 hours.
Participate in Higher-Risk Studies
I recently investigated the offerings at a Celerion research facility near my home in Arizona. I qualify for many of the 20 current studies for which they’re recruiting, and the pay ranges from $1,600 and $12,600.
That sounds good, except for the fact that my wife doesn’t want me to disappear into a research facility for days on end or spend nights there for a week or more, as some of the trials require.
Most of these are clinical drug trials. For example, one study is testing a new drug for arthritis. The $12,600 pay sounds great. The 15-night stay, 8 additional visits, and 29 blood draws — not so great.
Then there is the potential risk associated with using your body to test a new drug. Have you ever listened to drug commercials?
Those horrible side effects listed probably each represent some poor test subject who faced that particular issue.
Then again, $12,600… Risk/reward analysis is personal in these cases, but I’ll probably pass on this opportunity (for now).
Where Can You Apply?
Clinical trials and other research opportunities are sometimes advertised on Craigslist (click “gigs” and then search “research volunteers”).
You can also contact the nearest university to see if either their psychology department or medical school are recruiting test subjects.
Here are some more places to try:
ClinicalTrials.gov – This comprehensive database currently includes “260,508 research studies in all 50 states and in 201 countries.”
NIH Program for Healthy Volunteers – You can sign up here for various research trials that require healthy test subjects.
Center Watch – This global database lets you search for clinical trials based on your location or your medical condition.
Phrma.org – Search by state here to locate studies near you.
Covance Clinical Trials – Covance does medical studies around the country.
Vince and Associates – These research trials are in Overland Park, Kansas.
CISCRP.org – Sign up here for trials according to your condition and location.
University of North Carolina Brain Imaging and Analysis Center – Cognitive and clinical neuroscience is studied here. You have to be at least 18 years old and meet specific criteria for each study. The pay ranges from $10 to $20 per hour.
Northwestern University Department of Psychology – Current studies for which volunteers are needed include one looking at teams and leaders ($50 for 3 hours), problem-solving ($30 for first hour, $20 per hour after that), and various experiments on brain development ($10 to $40 per hour).
Yale School of Management eLab – You can volunteer for marketing studies and surveys here, but you may not be paid, because they award cash prizes randomly to volunteers (at least you get to participate online from the comfort of home).
Vanderbilt University eLab – These are web-based studies, with a monthly cash prize of $250 randomly awarded to one participant.
Stanford Medicine Etkin Lab – Healthy, right-handed volunteers are needed for brain research here, and the lowest paying gig at the moment is $125 for five hours.
Harvard University Psychological Study Pool – You can make $10 to $25 per hour participating in various psychological studies.
New York University Research Studies – Various psychological studies are done here, and current ones pay participants between $10 and $30 per hour.
Here are a couple other resources you might find useful:
Guinea Pigs Get Paid – This is a directory for research volunteers (all types) in the UK, US, Canada and Europe.
Just Another Lab Rat – This website has state-by-state links to research facilities that recruit volunteers, and general information about the business of being a test subject.
Can You Make a Living as a Test Subject?
Yes, if you really want to work at it, you can become a “professional” research subject. A report by NPR on people who make a living testing drugs includes the story of Paul Clough.
He does 8 or 9 trials annually, which provides enough income to live on and to fund his travels.
But NPR also recently reported on a drug trial that resulted in a man dying. So you might want to consider limiting the dangerous gigs.
In other words you might want to aim for making a little extra income, rather than trying to make a living as a human guinea pig.
If you have been a test subject please tell about your experience below… and keep on frugaling!