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3rd November 2022

I joined a clinical trial, here’s what you should know

Jess Ferguson shares her experiences of participating in a clinical trial for the drug psilocybin
I joined a clinical trial, here’s what you should know
Photo: NIH Image Gallery @Flickr

Most people have heard of clinical trials and their impact. They improve prognoses for diseases, help optimise products, and keep the general public safe.

People often believe that clinical trials are only for those who are ill, or for those who already have contacts in the scientific community. As someone who recently participated, I’m here to tell you that this is not the case.

What’s it like to take part?

Clinical trials not only test drugs, but also new cosmetics, contact lenses, equipment, techniques, and more. Trial lengths can vary from 1 hour to over a year.

The University of Manchester advertises some trials on their Faculty of Biology, Medicine, and Health website, which is worth looking at if you’re interested. Smaller trials are a great way to make a little bit of money without too much pressure and time commitment. Some studies only require a few short appointments, whilst still leaving you feeling like you have contributed to science in a meaningful way. Larger clinical trials pay more, but also ask more of their participants.

I took part in a psychedelic study at a local research company. This study advertised for healthy volunteers to take psilocybin (a compound found in most species of magic mushrooms). It is one of multiple studies currently looking into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics for depression, OCD and PTSD.

As a pharmacodynamic study, I had to wear a cannula for 24 hours to allow them to measure how my body broke down the drug. I also wore a blood pressure finger monitor and had regular meetings with the clinic therapist.

Now my experience is over, here are my 7 pieces of advice for anyone interested in participating in a clinical trial:

1. Know what to expect

 You are given a thorough participant information sheet before every study, and you must read this. You do not want any surprises during your time at the clinic as it will make the experience very stressful.

2. Do your research

Make sure you know about the company that is running the trial, and the drug or product you will be testing. Clinical trials are incredibly well-regulated in the UK, but if nothing else, it will help put your mind at rest.

3. Tell the truth

Never lie to get onto a clinical trial, as the rules are in place to protect you. For example, for my specific trial, they needed healthy participants with no family history of mental health disorders. This was crucial as psilocybin can have disastrous effects on those who have a history of psychosis.

4. Be aware of the risks (but don’t freak out)

It is worth looking into the drug you will be taking, but bear in mind that the clinical trial would not be taking place if the drug was considered likely to be unsafe. When you sign up for the trial, you will be bombarded with all the possible side effects as the clinic need you to be aware of all the possible outcomes. These are rare, as they would not be doing the study if they were considered likely. As long as you are truthful about your history, you are putting yourself in the best position to have an accident-free experience.

5. Communicate with the clinic staff

They are paid to look after you. All the staff I dealt with were so lovely and welcoming and it was really easy to feel at home. Their main focus should be your well-being, and you can withdraw your consent at any time up until the point that the drug is administered. If you get nervous, speak up!

6. Be patient

Clinics performing the trials often run into difficulties getting hold of the drugs, getting the equipment to work, contacting sponsors, and much more. If they say that an appointment is only going to last two hours, best to set aside four. My trial ended up being postponed for 2 weeks. Whilst this is perhaps less of an issue if you’re a student who can easily move things around, it is worth considering.

7. Enjoy yourself and relax

As cliché as it is you’re doing a fantastic thing for medical research, and you should try to enjoy it as much as you can. You are going to encounter some new experiences, try to not be too scared of appreciating them.

My trial experience was a real eye-opener and something that I would recommend to everyone. The people I met and the lessons I encountered were all positive and I truly enjoyed my time at the clinic. If you’re interested in helping the research community and are not squeamish (if you’re scared of blood or needles these trials are generally not the place for you), then I’d give it a go.

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