Make Cash As A Lab Rat

A guy who worked full time for three years just by signing up to be a human test subject for paid clinical research studies tells you how you can make good money doing it.

Basically, your job is to take an experimental non-FDA approved drug and report any side effects you have. If a little odd, it’s a pretty chill gig, with no real boss and lots of free time on your hands. On the downside, the food is bland, the people are weird, and you may have trouble explaining the track marks you get from having your blood drawn 20 times a day. He talks about how to get in one, what it’s like, and gives tips on getting through it (bring a laptop and an iPod).

How to Make a (Good) Living As a Human Lab Rat [Asylum]


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  1. jbandsma says:

    I’ve done 2 studies for meds for my COPD. They weren’t too onerous and the pay was great, not to mention free medical care.

    • jessjj347 says:

      The research studies that I see are typically to see the reaction between two drugs and a THIRD drug! Ridiculous! Being a lab rat is so risky that at any point you could compromise your health to the point that you need to start paying unreimbersed medical expenses. At that point, you may end up losing all of the money you made.

  2. LaurelHS says:

    The opening scenes of the “Walkabout” episode of Millennium just flashed into my head here.

  3. crashfrog says:

    So, you can’t work another job (because you can’t leave the trial center), they don’t pay you an actual employment wage, and it could make you uninsurable.

    Sweet gig!

    • tasselhoff76 says:

      The article says $6,000 per month. That’s not too bad.

      • dolemite says:

        Lol, that’s better than 99% of jobs in my area.

      • Pax says:

        … that’s more than eight times my Social Security benefits. O_O

      • madanthony says:

        but the article also says you pretty much can only work half the year, because you need time to flush the drugs from one trial out of your system before you can do another trial. Which means it works out to more like $3000 a month, minus whatever transportation costs and other expenses if you have to fly somewhere for a trial.

    • jbandsma says:

      With mine it was one day out of every 3 months (14 hours on site) and 2 hr. checkups in between. Nothing to stop me from having another job. And there’s little chance insurance (which I didn’t have any way) would have found out about the studies since my participation was under a strictly guarded number. My payment wasn’t listed as being for a medical study, either. It was made out to me as an ad hoc vendor.

    • TasteyCat says:

      Soon enough, the insurance companies will insure everybody. Or else.

    • crashfrog says:

      When I looked at doing this, it was less than $600 for a four-day trial (less than minimum wage), they wanted me to stay on the premises the whole time, I couldn’t have been on any medications at all, including aspirin, for the past month, and they wanted me to smear my poop on a card.

      Ultimately they said I couldn’t do it because I’d eaten a grapefruit the previous week. So, yeah. After that I had them stop calling me for studies. Didn’t even begin to be worth my time.

  4. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    “you’ll be required to undergo a physical so they can determine whether you dropping dead minutes after taking the drug was a side effect and not because you were on the verge of death to begin with.”

    Compelling argument.

  5. Chongo says:

    Scientist 1: That appetite suppressant is amazing.

    Scientist 2: [via intercom] Homer, you really have no desire to eat that food?

    Homer: Food? I’m blind! [screams and runs wildly around the room]

    Scientist 1: Who’s going to buy a pill that makes you blind?

    Scientist 2: We’ll let marketing worry about that. [Homer runs into the glass partition, and falls down]

  6. Hungry Dog says:

    The weird fleshy growths that are developed later in life are in no way connected with all the chemicals ingested while lab ratting.

  7. Woofer says:

    There was a short-lived show called Testees on FX about two fictional guys who tried to make a living off it. In short, it doesn’t go well for them.

  8. Fujikopez says:

    My husband used to do drug trials like this, except they were for drugs already approved by the FDA. IIRC, it was to test the drug concentration in his blood after it was administered. They were usually on the weekends (several weekends in a row) and he could work them around his job and college. Paid good money. He did a sleep drug once, and he said he’s never slept so much in his life. ;)

  9. vitajex says:

    I used to be a medical experiment test subject but I got fed up and stopped when they wouldn’t give full pay to the second head I grew in one test.

    “But he’s taking the pills TOO!” I said.
    They stood firm.

  10. tungstencoil says:

    I actually did this in my younger days. Wasn’t bad. You do have to be selective about your study; bio-equivalency was good for safety (drugs already tested in lab + market) but bad for the squeamish (104 blood draws per day for 3 days, the first 70 if which were in the first 2 hours, and no I’m not exaggerating). Experimental could be good for pay, because anything outside of blood draws meant extra money (if it they made you puke [yes] or required any other excreta besides blood [yes – all of them – yes, even that one]).

    Bad was the morphine studies. I never did one (thank goodness), but there were ALWAYS people in the facility doing one. Sounds good, right? High on morphine for four days? Except that it made most people sick as dogs (nauseous and constipated, which is worse when they’re monitoring what comes out). Also bad was any pain medication, because they did something called (innocently enough) a presser test: submerging your arm into super icy-cold water as long as you could.

    Ah, Pharmeco, you funded a lot of living when I was a musician….

    • DigTheFunk says:

      hell, i do multiple-day studies on morphine anyway, and I usually have to pay for it…Sign me up!

  11. JManBrody says:

    In Fargo we called them Pracs Tracks.

  12. duxup says:

    If I’ve got a chance at developing super powers I might try it….

  13. dreamfish says:
  14. jesirose says:

    The first line made me uninterested in reading the article. “It became very clear to me sometime in my early 20s that working for a living was a complete scam”.

    Dude, I’m in my early twenties. I’ve been working for a living since I was 18, and working since I was 16. Working for a living is honorable. I enjoy my work. Not everyone wants to be a lazy ass.

    BTW, if you’re supporting yourself with this lab rat thing – you’re working. You just happen to have work that you don’t find particularly taxing or stressful. Plenty of other people out there have work they enjoy, and make a living, and don’t consider “working for a living a scam”.


    • plumbob says:

      These are the words of a man living the scam :)

    • dan solomon says:

      Well, the line was intended to be kind of tongue-in-cheek — I don’t actually mean that all work is really inherently a scam, just that most of what was available to me at the time was work that paid me less than my time was worth to me. That’s why the lab rat life appealed to me — I got to keep most of the time for myself, and it paid pretty well for the hours I did cough up.

    • kujospam says:

      If you consider that working then you are always working, even when you are not getting paid. So doing anything is honorable to you. Including nothing.

    • Gulliver says:

      Here is where you decide if you really like your work. If somebody gave you a billion dollars tomorrow, would you continue to do it? Otherwise, it is what it is called WORK. The only reason for work is to make money. What you are willing to do to make that money is a personal decision. To Tiger Woods golf is work, he gets paid to do it. I, on the other hand, pay somebody else ot allow me to golf.

    • Kia says:

      Not wanting to work has nothing to do with being lazy. There is something seriously messed up with a working world where you spend over twice as much time at work than you do with friends, let alone your own damn family.

      I never realized this until recently, when my first serious girlfriend in a long time talked about getting full time work, and we realized we’d have maybe 5-7 available hours a day with each other, compared to the 8-10 hours of driving/getting ready/work per day. That is effed up no matter how you cut it. Lazy’s got zip to do with it. The working world sucks. Hard.

  15. CherieBerry says:

    How much were you paid?

  16. qbubbles says:

    I got $800 in college to spend 5 days in a hotel room and say whether or not I got a cold. I did, but it was gone by the 3rd day. Free food, free hotel, free tv. Had to get my blood drawn a few times, and had to save all my boogery tissues, but all in all, totally worth it.

  17. mythago says:

    A safer way to be a lab rat, especially if you live near a teaching hospital/medical school, is to volunteer to be a “patient” for medical student exams. No drugs involved and it pays pretty well.

    • TWSS says:

      Most definitely. My boyfriend is in med school and he’s always trying to rope his unemployed friends into being practice patients. It’s especially good for out-of-work actors, and I think it pays around $35 an hour.

      • Toffeemama is looking for a few good Otters says:

        Wasn’t that a Seinfeld episode? “They gave me gonorrhea again!”

  18. Tim says:

    Serious question: do you have to report the stipends as income?

    • mianne prays her parents outlive the TSA says:

      According to the article: Yes, and no withholding is done, so you’d better stay on top of your tax obligations.

    • RandomHookup says:

      Technically, yes (you have to report just about all income assuming you make enough to file taxes). If you make more than $600 in one year, the payer has to issue you a Form 1099 which shows what you made and is reported to the IRS. Some will issue you a 1099 regardless of how little you made (the VA once sent me one for $15).

  19. mianne prays her parents outlive the TSA says:

    Gleaning from the article, even if you can earn $6000 a month with free room and board during that time, you’ve generally got to take a month off between studies to flush the old experimental drug out of your system before you start taking the next one..

    Grossing a maximum gross income of around $36,000 and being cooped up 24/7 for 6 months out of the year, and likely traveling from city to city to participate in studies you might qualify for seems like a highly unstable existence and not worth the pay, even if it is quite a lot for the requisite skills.

  20. Intheknow says:

    Dumb idea. One test at a time because the meds you’re on keep you from being in another med test any time soon. I can’t possibly see how you could support yourself on the “pay.” Besides, who knows what you’re going to develop 10, 20, 30, 40 years from now because you were a lab rat now. However, maybe if you were homeless and jobless and had lots of time on your hands…….

  21. Amy Alkon says:

    Drugs have side-effects; sometimes side-effects that aren’t known till years later. Also, genes turn on and off in response to environmental factors. It’s possible you are setting yourself up for serious medical problems.

    The epidemiologist who helps me be better at reading studies taught me a word — iatrogenesis — when medical intervention has adverse effects. Basically, if you can avoid getting any sort of medical care, it’s a good idea. I don’t mean going without care that seems prudent and necessary, but anything that you really don’t need. You can judge that by telling your doctor you don’t want unnecessary tests and finding out if the tests ordered really are necessary, what the risk factors are, etc. Unfortunately, some doctors — or many — might not be able to tell you that.

  22. Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

    I was a “brain dummy” for MRI studies at the Duke Brain Imaging Center. Paid $50/hour because people don’t like going in the MRI. I could fall asleep in the MRI, so I got to be the “anatomical normal” for a lot of studies if I agreed to take a nap. I also did things like play video games, watch Spider Man, etc., and have my emotions “recorded” for various studies.

    Women got an extra $10/test because you had to have a pregnancy test run first before they’d put you in the machine.

    it was great, I loved it. And whenever I see a new brain study in Time magazine or whatever, I look and it’s frequently the Duke Brain Imaging Center, and when they show the normal brain, THAT COULD BE MY BRAIN!

    • RandomHookup says:

      I used to do a bunch of these when I was unemployed. Unfortunately, I developed a little claustrophobia after a while and had to give it up. I’m still on the list for lots of the Harvard studies around here, but only occasionally pick up an EEG or some other tests. The best ones really are the ones where they pay for your blood (not plasma). You can make $50-100 for a quick donation and you clean out some of that nasty old blood so your body can make more.

  23. CookiePuss says:

    When drug commercials list all those awesome side effects like anal leakage, decreased sex drive, hives, and sometimes death I shudder a little. Especially when those crazy side effects can come from some minor medication like a sleep aid or nasal decongestant. Or an antidepressant that can cause suicidal behavior. I think I’d rather be a drug mule over a lab rat. Mule>Rat.

    Heres an old consumerist article titled 9 Legal Drugs With Extremely Disturbing Side Effects. A good and funny read for anyone who missed it last year. :D

  24. ash says:

    One big thing is that to participate in these types of studies, you basically have have no health problems whatsoever and taking no medications. For the experimental drug trials looking for healthy adults, that eliminates a lot of people who are interested in participating.

    • gStein_*|bringing starpipe back|* says:

      i’m in this situation – I have diabetes, and can’t participate in most clinical trials because of it. (then again, i’m not really sure that i want to whore out my body for a few bucks.)
      I’ve looked into a few diabetes-centric studies, but most of those require you to have complications from diabetes (a lot of them are studying diabetic neuropathy)

  25. JollyJumjuck says:

    I wish I would have had this option when I *was* healthy. Unfortunately I lived in the middle of nowhere and my situation was such that I absolutely could not have left home to camp out at the clinics. Now I live in a city where these trials go on fairly close to home, but my health has deteriorated to the point where no study wants me. I guess Murphy’s Law is right: the best opportunities come around when you cannot take advantage of them.

  26. calico says:

    The only problem with trying to make a living as a lab rat is that I’m pretty sure you aren’t supposed to be doing studies in close succession (since whatever you did in a previous study could affect the results of the next), so you should make sure they pay well. However, if they pay well, it also means it’s probably going to be pretty unpleasant for you.

    Also, people die from doing this. Just sayin’.

  27. Mcshonky says:

    i’ll stick with my insurance-less job a mcdonalds thank you very much.

  28. roguemarvel says:

    I have a friend who has done that to help pay for college and now when she has been in between jobs. I have thought about it, to make some extra money but my husband told me no

    • RandomHookup says:

      The secret is to avoid drug studies and do other types. If you can handle being inside an MRI, you can make good money (though I have noticed the dollar amount dropping lately — probably due to supply and demand). If you live in a big city, there are groups advertising for healthy patients to do all kinds of things — give some blood samples, take psych tests, do EEGs, do hearing and vision tests. I used to make about $15 an hour going to Harvard for pencil and paper (or computer) testing. No needles or drugs involved.

  29. sheriadoc says:

    I was part of a social anxiety study at one of the top hospitals in Boston. It was a year-long double-blind study to determine the effects that Cymbalta had on my condition. I think they paid me like $300 at the end of it, but they gave me over $3,000 worth of Cymbalta which was awesome. Can’t say it helped me immensely, but it was an interesting experience.

  30. Ichabod says:

    How many studies did this guy screw up? I doubt that he stuck with one study at a time and therefore threw results of the studies out of the window with his non compliance.

    • dan solomon says:

      No, sir, I stuck fastidiously to doing one study at a time during the three years I did this full-time. I knew people who would do more than one at a time, but it’s actually pretty rare, in my experience — at the very least because it’s tough to coordinate. It’s more common to see people who cheat on the washout period, though I never did that, either, because I didn’t actually -like- doing studies — I would prefer to be in when I needed to be in, and be out when I had the option of being out. I preferred to keep my overhead low so I didn’t have to hop from study-to-study without a break.

  31. arachne says:

    Hah, I thought I remembered this one:

    I wonder what did happen to the six test subjects?

  32. Gizmosmonster says:

    Got rent money a couple times a year back in College. The University of Iowa did some great allergy studies every year. I had allergies to everything.
    One 30 minute Pre-visit, and then spent a lovely spring or fall weekend in a park with 100 other sneezers. The hope was that you would get the actual drug, and that it worked. The weird part- we were given special bags for all of our used kleenex, and they kept them for testing!

    They fed us well, I got caught up in all my reading for classes, and pocketed $300 for each study.

  33. SugarMag says:

    I was tempted to do one trial because I was so matched to the needed and detailed criteria and personally would have benefited greatly from the med if approved.

    Unfortunately, I was to keep a detailed diary for six months and only be paid $30 per month plus taking experimental drugs. A doc visit for 2 hrs every other week was also required for that whopping $30, and I was going to take vaca time to do the med followup (which I am not opposed to in theory, but for the scant cash incentive losing vaca time seemed like a ripoff).

    I did do non-drug studies in college that the college housed and ran, and it was enough cash to make it worth it, plus it was kinda fun.

  34. megafly says:

    My wife is in a long term study now. depending on your health problem you may qualify for a study BECAUSE of your problems.

  35. Smultronstallet says:

    Do these studies allow people to participate who are taking medications, like xanax for example?