Guinea Pig

Last year I took ten pills in ten days to make $40. That isn’t much for participating in a medical trial, but hey, you have to start somewhere. And you can make a lot more than that.

How much more? In one study NASA paid volunteers $15,000 just to stay in bed for a few months. And there are other studies that offer you the potential to make thousands of dollars as a human guinea pig.

For example last year you could have been paid $3,000 to get the flu. Of course you had to be able to take time off from your regular job so you could have the live H1N1 flu virus squirted up your nose and then lay around in the “special isolation ward at the government’s NIH hospital for nine days. But that’s $333 per day!

Yes, volunteering for medical experiments can be uncomfortable, or even dangerous. For example, a healthy 24-year-old woman died during an asthma study at Johns Hopkins University. But at least it’s safer (probably) to volunteer for research studies here in the states than in India, where in recent years 2,500 people died while participating in clinical trials.

Still Interested?

Fortunately not all research studies involve dangerous activities, and you volunteer for these, so you can choose the ones that are less risky. The pills I took were just aspirin, which I’ve never had a problem with. The manufacturer apparently wanted to see if the new coating caused any problems for users (no side effects here). And not all of the opportunities are invasive medical or drug trials. For example, there are…

Psychological Studies

Psychological research is often done in research universities. For example New York University usually has dozens scheduled at any given time. Recent studies included:

  • Economic Choice Behavior – $15 for an hour of your time.
  • Emotion and Learning – Required an fMRI scan and paid $30 per hour
  • Worried About Your Drinking? – Required an hour in the lab, a daily diary, and paid $30

Similar opportunities that pay between $10 and $30 per hour can be found in the psychology departments of many universities, including these:

For some studies participation is limited to students, while for others the general public is invited to volunteer and get paid.

For an idea of what kind of psychological research you might be involved in you can read about Andreea Manole’s experience doing paid studies in England, and we also have a report on being a research subject in the Netherlands.

If you count your time spent signing up, commuting, and waiting, these kinds of psychology experiments and other low-risk studies might net you less than $10 per hour. But sometimes they pay almost as well as the more invasive medical trials. For example, volunteer Halina Zakowicz was paid $1,500 to gamble for about fifteen hours while undergoing fMRI scans of her brain (and she had an additional $50 in winnings in the end). That sounds a lot safer than taking a radioactive drug for $500, which she says she did in another study.

According to most sources MRI and fMRI scans have no side effects. That’s good news if you want to be a human guinea pig without much risk, because these brain scans are often used in studies that pay well. For example, J.D. Roth was paid $120 cash for participating in a “neuroeconomics” study, which involved nothing more than lying in an MRI scanner while answering questions about money for an hour.

Medical Research

Even medical trials can be relatively safe. You might be paid to eat a certain diet for a few weeks, for example, which is unlikely to do much harm. Or you might be paid to participate in a trial based on your current conditions or behaviors, with little additional risk.

Elliott Sharp made almost $2,000 doing tobacco-related studies, but it wasn’t an added risk for him, since he already smoked. He just watched anti-smoking public service announcements while smoking, and then answered questions so researchers could determine how effective the ads were.

How to Sign Up as a Test Subject

In addition to the institutions mentioned above, there are schools, hospitals, companies and government facilities all over the country (and world) that pay volunteers to participate in research. You can search for these online in various ways, including on Craigslist (search “research volunteers” under “gigs”). To find studies related to specific conditions, search using the names of any ailments you have.

If you are generally healthy you can sign up for the Clinical Research Volunteer Program (CRVP), run by the National Institute of Health (NIH). Among the benefits listed for participating in HIH research is this: “Receive compensation for taking part in a study.” Thousands of healthy volunteers participate in HIH studies every year at locations around the country and world.

One of the best places to search for opportunities, whether you have medical problems or are basically healthy, is at ClinicalTrials.gov, which is run by the NIH. You can search any keyword and get a list of studies.

Looking for less risky research, I entered “sleep” in the search box and got 4,229 results. Most studies had been completed, but of the first 100 results, 32 showed as “Recruiting,” so there is no shortage of opportunities. A study aiming to improve sleep in Veterans used “Sleep Hygiene and Cognitively Based Compassion Training Intervention.” That sounds pretty non-invasive, and they needed 260 volunteers.

When you find a study you’ll have to look very carefully at basic eligibility requirements, and then the more detailed “inclusion criteria” and “exclusion criteria.” The sleep study mentioned above they needed veterans over the age of 60. For one study you might need to have a diagnosed depressive disorder while for another you might be excluded for having that.

You can also use one of the many websites that compile medical trial information for you. When you search and click through a few links you’ll often end up on the NIH website where a study was first listed, but sites like these sometimes have other ways to search and features not available on the government websites. For example, PaidResearchStudies.org lets you sign up for updates, so you can be notified of opportunities without having to constantly search.

Your Thoughts: Would you consider becoming a human guinea pig to make money?

Photo Credit: SashaW on Flickr.com