It became very clear to me sometime in my early 20s that working for a living was a complete scam.

After a couple of years spent clocking in 40-hour weeks, I realized that I wanted nothing to do with a system that offered me such meager compensation and ate up so much of my time. In a perfect world, my time would be mine to travel, learn to play the melodica and the sitar, download pornography, cry myself to sleep, play video games, cry in the shower, watch countless episodes of "Justice League Unlimited" in an unbroken stream and visit the finest restaurants in town, where I could sneak off into the bathroom and cry in seclusion.

And so I became a lab rat.

The life of a full-time, professional volunteer for pharmaceutical and medical research studies is like being handed the keys to the Kingdom of Easy Money and Free Time. All that crying up there? Tears of joy, friends, for the ease with which I was able to live my life. And you can do it, too. It's simple.

Keep reading to learn how to rent your body to science.

Step 1: Know What They Are
There are facilities throughout America that offer paid compensation in exchange for your participation in clinical pharmaceutical research studies.

While each study varies, the basics are pretty consistent: For a set amount of time, you agree to check in to a research clinic, where you won't be allowed to leave, and take an experimental, non-FDA-approved drug that they're testing. You'll be poked and prodded, have blood drawn sometimes as often as 20 times a day, eat tasteless, Dharma Initiative–caliber food and live with others who have chosen this as their line of work.

Your main task, besides being stuck incessantly with needles, will be to report the side effects of the drug. Eventually, some years down the line, if your drug is approved by the FDA, a calm-voiced narrator will rattle off some of the things you've reported at the end of a commercial, warning potential patients that they may feel what you've felt. This will fill you with great pride.

Step 2: Find a Study
Towns with a large university tend to have facilities for drug studies -- Austin, Texas, and Madison, Wis., are each home to some of the more popular clinics, though they pop up throughout this great land of ours. Full lists can be found on websites like Guinea Pigs Get Paid and Just Another Lab Rat.

Each facility's screening process varies, but in any case, 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. You'll also be measured for various other requirements, like a basic BMI fitness level and blood pressure. If you meet these, you'll probably be admitted.

Step 3: Be Patient
Life inside a drug study's facility is kind of like going to camp, but with no activities and lots of needles. The other participants will range from people who owe child support payments for their eight kids (each with a different woman) to wacky, Kramer-from-"Seinfeld"-like kooks.

You'll want to take a laptop and an iPod, though you'll need to be sure that there's no camera in either. When you're not being stuck with needles and forced drugs, you'll have plenty of free time. Been meaning to re-watch "Smallville" before the fateful 10th season? Well, there's time enough at last.

Studies range in length from a single weekend to up to six weeks, and your paycheck tends to average roughly $200 a night. If the idea of making six grand in a single month isn't appealing enough, imagine making six grand in a single month that you spent devouring the entire oeuvre of Jet Li. There'll be boring stretches, and the food will probably be nasty, but keep your eye on the prize and you'll make it.

Step 4: Get Out and Get Ready for the Next One
Each study has a wash-out period after you check out of the facility, so you don't start mixing unapproved, experimental drugs. Usually, it's about a month. Assuming that you're using your check for personal expenses, and not to cover massive gambling debts or something, now's the time to live it up: Save enough for taxes, which aren't deducted from the check in advance and then think about where you'd like to go next. Feel like spending some time in Chicago? Book a flight to the Windy City and then schedule a screening at Abbott Laboratories, in nearby Waukegan. Fancy a European vacation? Spend some of your massive check on international airfare, then get ready to check in at Paraxel in London. (Bonus: The exchange rate works in your favor here.) In a tropical mood? Head on down to Honolulu for an extended study at Covance.

Step 5: Retire, Eventually
The first year or two that you're making a (good) living playing video games and watching movies inside of a clinical pharmaceutical research unit, it really does seem like you've found a cheat code for life: no boss, all the free time you can handle and easy money whenever you want it.

But, like all super-exciting things, there will come a time when you start to get sick of it. You'll be tired of having to explain the needle marks in your arms by telling the TSA security guy that you've found Jesus and are taking it a day at a time. Maybe you'll meet a girl who wants a boyfriend who's actually there and whose job she can explain to her mom.

When that day comes, listen to your instincts. There are all sorts of other careers for people with your experience set, and you'll come to appreciate the ability to do things like go outside every single day and not bleed from a hole in your arm. You don't need to close the door permanently -- if you decide that you need a used Jet Ski or season tickets for your favorite basketball team, the drug studies will still be waiting. No one can do this as a full-time career for more than about four years without becoming the exact sort of person that your friends worried you were when you first told them about your new scheme -- and you don't want to be that person. You'll have spent a whole bunch of time locked up in a clinic with that person. You'll hate him.

I made it a solid three years as a full-time lab rat, and the lure of the money has gotten me to sign up for a short study a couple of times in the ensuing years. It turns out there are a few jobs a person can get that actually provide some measure of satisfaction, and I'd recommend pursuing one of them, if you get the chance. But, in a bad economy where options can be limited, free money in exchange for testing drugs sure beats working a crappy job like a sucker.


Dan Solomon is regular contributor to Asylum, the Onion A.V. Club and MadeLoud. His body now belongs to his wife.