Make extra cash as a human guinea pig

Being a lab rat: what could go wrong?

Do you have trouble sleeping? Are you a heavy smoker over 21? If you’ve ever struggled to pay rent, you’ve probably given human guinea pigging more than a passing thought. Medical researchers are always on the hunt for test subjects, and they pay from $15 (filling out a survey) to several thousand (participating in a lengthy sleep study). The general rule is the same as it is in everyday life: the more you risk, the better the reward. Since there are lots of people with healthy bodies and unhealthy bank accounts, here’s a rough “how-to” guide for anyone looking to get into experiments.

Step 1: Find a Study
Start with a quick look at the government-sponsored Clinical Trials website. In addition to listing all federally funded and privately financed clinical trials around the world (almost 103,000, according to the site), the NIH-run site offers an exhaustive breakdown of clinical procedures, safety regulations, oversight boards, sponsorship disclosure and all sorts of other useful pieces of information.

The information on Clinical Trials can be a bit overwhelming, though. Two alternatives are Guinea Pigs Get Paid and BioTrax.  Guinea Pigs Get Paid, which also advertises mystery shopping and film extra work, is a user-friendly site that lists pretty much everything that Clinical Trials misses, but beware of dead links. BioTrax, the UK equivalent of Clinical Trials allows you to test your experiment eligibility and then sends you updates when studies become available.

Step 2: Know the Risks and Rewards
Once you’ve found a suitable study, you should know what you’re getting into. Here’s a breakdown of procedures and pay rates along with my own inconvenience rating (0 = No Pain, Easy Money, 5 = Life is Meaningless, Poke Away).

MRI: A typical MRI pays $50, along with the completion of a one-day screening and interview, which pays $75. MRIs are not particularly invasive – the procedure is quick and painless – but sitting around in an office for most of the day may be kind of annoying.
Inconvenience Level: 1
Total Payout: $125/MRI and screener

PET: PET scans — a type of nuclear imaging — pay around $600. Again, all PET scans involve a one-day screening and interview (which pays $75). The bad news: the high rate of pay comes at a cost of convenience. In order to get a PET scan, you need to ingest (or get injected with) a radiotracer, wait an hour for the radiotracer to be absorbed, then have the procedure. Some scans involve a catheter, too, which can be a major turn-off. Overall, though, this is an easy way to make good money. Unfortunately, procedures involving PET scans are harder to find.
Inconvenience Level: 3
Total Payout: $675/PET and screener

Medical Questionnaires: Online questionnaires typically pay $15/form. Medical surveys are usually part of non-invasive observational studies (i.e. cognitive performance studies) that don’t pay much, so consider the paid questionnaire a small token of appreciation. Or think of it this way: one medical survey gets you a vodka soda at the Bunker Club in the Meatpacking District or a case of the best cheap beer around. Saturday night never seemed so glamorous.
Inconvenience Level: 0
Total Payout: $15/form


Plasma Donation: Although it’s not technically a procedure used in clinical trials, plasma donation deserves a mention. Most plasma donations pay $20-$30/visit, and visits last between 1.5 and 3 hours. The benefits: free cookies at the end; the chance to help out your fellow man; and you can do it twice a week for as long as you can stomach it.  The drawbacks: lots of needles, moderate discomfort.
Inconvenience Level: 3
Total Payout: $20-$30/donation

Sleep Studies: Think you’re ready for the big time?  Then try this one out: sleep studies pay between $175 (for a one-night stay) and $3,000 (for a 14-day study). Too good to be true? The benefits: lots of cash, the chance to find out why you have trouble sleeping (i.e. excessive drinking), the chance to get away from your annoying roommates for a few nights. The drawbacks: slightly invasive cognitive tests, huge time commitment.
Inconvenience Level: 4-5
Total Payout: $175-$200/night

Step 3: Get Paid
So, you’ve allowed scientists to poke and prod, but when can you expect cash? The good news is that most large clinics pay you on the final day of the experiment, or within two weeks at most. The bad news is that some clinics won’t pay you anything if you don’t complete the study, so read your safety wavers carefully.

Generally speaking, there are no legal restrictions on the number of tests you can undergo at a single time, but good judgment dictates that you keep the experiments within reason. There are people who make their living off of medical experiments, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’ve lost the will to live. Test in moderation and you’ll make science work for you, and maybe even help some researcher find a miracle drug while you’re at it.


  1. Tim Donnelly

    I’d like to add that while the New York Blood Center doesn’t outright pay you for donating, they do have a pretty sweet rewards program: if you donate when they set up the bloodmobile on Court Street, for instance, you get free movie tix to the UA theater. When I gave platelets this summer, I got free Mets tickets. You can earn other stuff too, kinda like Marlboro Miles. Except, you know, saving lives. or whatever

  2. Jessica

    I’m disappointed plasma donation is even on here. It’s not even an option in New York. I have never been able to find a plasma donation center in New York. People donate it here, don’t they?

  3. Tim Donnelly

    Jessica, yes you definitely can: the new york blood center takes plasma, blood and platelets. I know this because they call and harras you to donate it ALL THE TIME.

  4. Jessica

    I realize I’m super late commenting back, but maybe its worth a shot. I have never been able to find a place that will give you cold hard money for plasma donation. It’s simply that, a donation. I couldn’t find any info on their website (New York Blood Center) about plasma. Any help?

  5. susan

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  6. Sheila D. Miller

    Please contact me I have problems sleeping. I am willing to stay over night up to 3-4 nights. Friday, Saturday, sunday and Monday only.

  7. Mario Havens

    I have trouble with sleeping, that my sleep patterns are extremely erratic. im interested in participating in clinical sleep studies.

  8. Since I was a child far back as I can remember I. Have a death wish. I am now 37 years oldand nothing has changed. Everyday I rise I get upset just becouse I woke whole life. Has been a failure and still going.I do not have anything worth looking forward to day to day soI feel that if I can help. With a life saving cure for someone in need maybe I can find some personal value in life

  9. georgegomez

    How can I sign up for the sleep study research? I’ve never done any type of studies but I’m having so much trouble sleeping. I was told by a friend that I can make money and figure out my sleeping problem at the same time. I would like to do the two weeks study that it shows in the article.

  10. Trinnis smith

    I really would like to be a human guinea pig ..I have trouble sleeping and I. need the money. I would like to volunteer for any test and I will travel i will take the risks for the right price