5 Bizarre Realities of Taking Unapproved Drugs for Money
Quick! What's the best way you can imagine spending your work day? If you said "taking ungodly amounts of narcotics" and "exposing your genitals to strangers," then you've got a problem and should probably seek help. But as it turns out, there's an entire industry that is absolutely perfect for you -- and shockingly, it's not "Internet comedy writer." You, friend, should consider becoming a professional medical test subject. Well, with the possible exception of ...
Every Aspect of Your Life Is Rigidly Planned
Drug trials go through four phases before being released to the general population. I worked as a nurse in a Phase I clinic, which is the step that is meant to prove that these drugs are even safe for humans to ingest. For this phase, we take only people who are perfectly healthy, because we're about to pump them full of more opiates and barbiturates than you could shake a high school dropout at.
"I just want a job doing what I love ... drugs."
You'd think it would all descend into the sort of drug-addled anarchy usually reserved for a Snoop Dogg concert parking lot, but every activity is planned out to the minute, and every detail is controlled, logged, and precisely monitored. Here's how dinnertime goes: Everything is weighed out to the gram with a specific amount of fat, protein, and carbs, and you have to eat every last bite. Sometimes you're even required to take your first and last bite at a prescribed time. Many studies require blood draws every 15 minutes. You must be asleep by a certain time, awake by a certain time, and can only spend a certain amount of time on each activity. Everything is monitored, and you will be questioned at length about any and all bodily functions, so don't expect to jerk off without a lengthy exit interview.
"Would you describe it as: teaspoon, tablespoon, or ladle?"
So if you love rigid, dystopian-level authority as much as you love gettin' high as balls, this is the career for you. Provided that you actually exist.
The Pay Can Be Amazing, But It's Performance-Based
Let's go back to that dinner example. It was supposed to go from 6:00 to 6:20, but you took that last bite at 6:14. Sucks to be you, because it's coming out of your pay. Couldn't fall asleep on time? Yup, coming out of your paycheck. Say you're Jewish and decided to hold off on that sausage patty at breakfast -- sticking to your religious guns just cost you money. Our custodial staff has to check under the rails of all our tables, because grown-ass adults hide food under there like you used to hide your mom's terrible meatloaf at family dinners. The main difference being that mom doesn't fine you when she sees you feeding that igneous block of unfood to the dog.
"Come on; I've seen you eat like five different kinds of poop. Do me a solid here."
Participants aren't always that concerned about receiving violations, because the pay can be spectacular if you latch on with the right study. If you're working with a drug that's relatively well-known in the scientific community, you'll likely have a shorter study and receive significantly reduced compensation. But occasionally you'll get a newer drug, or one that needs extensive study. Most of our studies average a couple days and pay a couple grand, but sometimes we'll see studies that last nearly a month and pay up to $13,000. You probably picture human guinea pigs as desperate junkies who can't get money any other way, but they can rake in 13 friggin' grand for four weeks of work.
"And no butt stuff? SOLD!"
And yes, you can absolutely make it a career: I live in a city of about two million people, and my company runs just one facility here. But within a four-hour drive, there are three more cities that contain a branch of my old company, as well as several other stations. I talked to a woman one day that was finishing up a study at our facility by 9 a.m., then planned to go do a follow-up to a previous study about two and a half hours away by 1 p.m. She would then head to yet another city three hours away by 6 o'clock that evening to start a different four-day study. Granted, if certain people had known what she was up to she probably would have been turned away from all but one, but she definitely knew how to work the system. There are mandatory cool-down periods (typically lasting around a month) where subjects are not supposed to be allowed to participate, but there's no national database, and a lot of people don't follow that rule.
"I'm doing studies for fertility and birth control."
For perspective: I once struck up a conversation with one of these regulars, and we ended up comparing paychecks. He, a professional pin cushion, and me, a college-educated and FDA certified nurse. On average, he was making something like $2 per hour more.
Maybe finishing your vegetables and having a bedtime again is worth it.
The Actual "Labs" Are on a Spectrum Between a Hotel and a Frat
Even though you're in a hospital-style situation and you're doing a job, you're essentially living at the lab. In order to eliminate the "cabin fever" people will inevitably feel during some of the longer studies, the company has to make it comfortable for the subjects.
"What's with the towels?"
"When it happens, you'll know."
The money is important to the participants, sure, but so are the amenities. They'll usually have access to video games, exercise equipment (though your activity is strictly monitored), cable TV, Internet, and other such essentials to help keep their minds off of the experimental drugs rampaging through their organs.
Except for the flatulence drug groups. They never forget.
But sometimes even comfy couches and video games can't prevent cabin fever, and fights will break out between the subjects. Yes, part of your job description at a drug-testing facility may be "break up the drug-fueled brawls." Just one more way Roadhouse is like male nursing. If it's not the fights, it's something else: Occasionally people sneak off to others' bedrooms for a little intimate rendezvous. Inter-participant diddling is more common than you'd think. When you've got a lot of bored, (typically) young people in a confined space and you pair that with inhibition-lowering opiates, you're on a bullet train to Pound Town. Imagine if the whole floor of your old dorm got sick and had to be quarantined at a hospital, and you've got a pretty good mental picture of a medical testing facility.
These Are Still Intense and Powerful Drugs We're Dealing With
Although occasionally you get a pretty tame drug to test drive, the nature of the job means you're probably going to get one without a lot of documented information about its effects on humans. We test antipsychotics, barbiturates, opiates, insufflated cannabis (read: snorted weed extract), and steroids, just to name a few. Sounds like fun? For how long? A few days? A week? Still fun after a month straight?
Which probably feels closer to a year in snorted stoner time.
In one study we did involving an antidepressant, at least 70 percent of the participants became violently ill. The subjects had dizziness, fainting, racing heart rates, seizures, wrenching stomach cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea. The medical staff had to make some tough decisions and arrange people according to the severity of their illness, sending plenty of folks off to the ER. This study was supposed to last a week, but it was canceled after about six hours of everybody's insides trying to get outside.
"Promises were made ... of the non-butt variety ..."
We require subjects to be healthy, but that doesn't mean they can take these trials lightly. There was one guy who took the same dose as everyone else in the study, his vitals were checking out fine, and everything was good. But then one night he came to complain that the circus in our parking lot was keeping him awake with the loud noises and lights. We might have video games and pool at the facility, but we do not have a clinic circus. The man had been in a completely dark, windowless bedroom. He was sent to the hospital and later to his personal doctor, and it turns out that he'd been hallucinating because the drug had dug up a latent mental illness. Imagine that: You sign up for some easy money at a drug trial for a few weeks, and find out you have a permanent mental illness just hiding in your brain like a psychological ninja.
Some Pretty Scary People Can Come In
While your average subject is a college kid making some weekend scratch, or a single mom who just got laid off, you do get the occasional errant weirdo. Arguably the most common complaint by roommates is someone either exposing themselves or masturbating. One guy that amazingly lasted for three studies with us kept coming up with any thin excuse to get staff members to take a look at his junk. He'd claim to have a rash, "accidentally" get caught changing or showering, or that age-old standard: "Naked sleepwalking."
"My doctor says vigorous handjobs are the safest way to wake me. I wrot- have a note."
Some companies allow for the testing of minors with a parent's consent, but ours took only adult subjects. Regardless, we'd still get parents trying to pimp out their children for these tests. On at least one occasion Child Protective Services was called because the children were obviously not being properly cared for. Oftentimes it was clear that the parents were attempting to sell their own children into medical testing just to fund certain ... habits.
Damn you, Candy Crush. Damn you to hell.
One particularly scarring time, I was doing a pre-study exam of a patient with genital herpes. She'd also had an ileostomy, which is basically a hole your surgeon leaves open so your intestine can leak out waste. Already grossed out? Close this article. Now. Run away and never look back. Nobody is responsible for what happens to your brain in the next paragraph but you.
Enjoy some parting puppies and be on your way. Last chance.
As I was examining her, I noticed the herpes had spread to her ileostomy hole. I took a deep breath and asked specifically how the herpes had spread to the hole in her guts. She confessed that she and her boyfriend (who gave her the herpes in the first place) use that orifice during sex.
Good luck scrubbing that mental image. If you're lucky, we have a drug for that ...
Isaac's mom is proud that he finally did something in the medical field, sort of. He's a Workshop Moderator here at Cracked and helps schedule interviews for personal experience articles just like this one. Shoot him a message here if you've got a unique story you'd like to tell the world.
For more jobs you probably shouldn't go for, check out 18 Professions That Will Make You Appreciate Yours.
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