Participate at the NRB - FAQ

What is an MRI and how does an MRI machine work?
Magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRI is a way to look inside the body without using x-rays or radiation. The MRI machine is a long tube-shaped magnet. Our magnet has a strength of 3 Tesla. For comparison, the Earth’s magnetic field is 0.00005 Tesla. That means our magnet is 60,000 times stronger than that of Earth! The magnet uses radio waves to help create images of the brain. We also use Functional MRI (fMRI) for our studies, which allow us to see the brain as it working to solve various tasks and problems. It is important to know that the MRI machine is always on—that is, it is always magnetized!

What does the MRI scanner look like?

Photo of an MRI machine

What will the MRI image look like?
Example views of anatomical image (showing the different parts of your brain):

Example views of anatomical image (showing the different parts of your brain)

Example of functional MRI image (showing your brain at work):

Example of functional MRI image (showing your brain at work)

Is the MRI machine safe?
Millions of people have MRI scans each day. MRI machines are safe, do not require the use of radiation and the exam itself is painless. There are no known short- or long-term health effects of MRI scanning. There are some groups of people, however, that may be prone to risk or discomfort from the MRI scanner, although we always do a complete physical exam and history to rule out those individuals.

Here are some common risks or discomforts from the MRI:

  • Mild backache from lying still in the scanner for a few hours
  • Fear from the small space of the MRI (claustrophobia)
  • Injury if you have a non-compatible metal implant (for example a metal plate in your head, some replacement joints) or prior injuries from metal objects (NOTE: you will be screened for these conditions before the study)
  • Pregnant women receive MRIs when needed for clinical purposes, and there are no documented risks of MRI to the fetus. However, since this is a research study in otherwise healthy women, we exclude women who are pregnant from the study, as even potentially very small risk would not be considered ethically appropriate.
  • The noise of the MRI machine is loud and it could damage your hearing, but we require you to wear hearing protection while in the scanner

If you want to learn more about MRI safety please click here [MRI Safety].

Who can participate in our MRI studies?
Every study has its own specific inclusion and exclusion criteria, but there are some that are common to all.

Inclusion criteria:

  • Be in good health
  • Be able to lie still on your back for 1.5-3 hours at a time

Exclusion criteria:

  • Back problems
  • Claustrophobia (fear of small spaces)
  • Pregnancy
  • Certain types of metal in certain parts of your body

Some things that you will be asked to remove before scanning include: retainers, removable bridges, dentures, body piercings, hair clips or pins, earrings, belts, and eyeglasses

How do I prepare for an MRI study?
MRI studies involve very little preparation, other than arriving on time and being well-rested for your appointment. In addition, we ask that you drink no alcohol for 24 hours prior to the study and limit caffeinated beverages to ½ cup for 12 hours prior to each study. Caffeine can be found in coffee, tea, and many sodas, among other beverages.

Because the MRI is a large magnet, try to wear comfortable clothing without metal studs, inserts, or pins (pants zippers are allowed).

Also, you will not be able to wear your glasses during scanning. If you have them, wear non-colored contacts on days you will be scanned. If you do not have contacts, and the study requires that you read or view images, we will provide magnet compatible eye glasses.

FAQ about NRB Research MRI studies

What do the experiments study?
Most of our MRI studies are functional MRI (fMRI) studies. We examine how the brain works during several aspects of thinking such as attention, memory, decision making, problem solving, learning, and emotion. Also, sometimes we study the brain at rest. We also study the anatomy of the brain, i.e. what different parts of your brain look like.

What types of people are you recruiting for your studies?
For most protocols, we are looking for healthy non-drug using volunteers. Depending on the protocol, we are also recruiting smokers and people who use some illicit drugs (e.g., cocaine, marijuana and ecstasy).

Do you offer a treatment program for drug users?
No, our Branch does not have a formal treatment program, however, other Branches at NIDA do. We are developing pilot treatment protocols that may be appropriate for some individuals. Please ask us if you are interested. You may be eligible for a NIDA treatment research study. Click here [heroin treatment studies or heroin/cocaine treatment studies]. Alternatively, we will be happy to give you information to find an appropriate treatment program.

What happens during the experiments?
Studies begin by reading and signing a consent form (a document that describes the study and its risks and discomforts). Then you will receive a short nursing assessment that will question your medical history, medications, and smoking and drug use habits. Your height, weight, and vital signs (blood pressure and pulse) will also be measured. You might also be asked to complete some other questionnaires relating to memory, attention or various personality traits. You will be asked to give a urine sample to test for drugs of abuse and, if you are female, pregnancy. We will test for recent alcohol and smoking by asking you to blow into a machine.

After the nursing assessment, you may be trained how to do the tasks that will be used inside the MRI. Task training sometimes takes place at a computer and/or inside a fake MRI machine called a mock scanner.

Finally, you will receive the MRI scan.

Some studies may require you to come back for multiple visits and others may also require that you complete some additional questionnaires or tasks throughout the study. Our studies range from 1-6 visits and each visit lasts from 3 to 8 hours.

If I work during the week, can I still participate in studies?
Yes. In addition to being open Monday thru Friday, most days into the early evening, the scanner is also available for studies every Saturday. We will work with you to find times and days that work best with your schedule.

Can I participate in multiple studies?
In most cases, yes, you may participate in multiple studies as long as you are eligible for those particular studies [click here to check eligibility].

Do I get paid for participation in the research studies?
Yes. You will be paid for your time and effort. Each study has its own specific compensation. When you are notified of which studies you are eligible for, we can give you more specific information regarding compensation for that particular study.

Are there any incentives to participate other than money?
Although there are no direct health benefits to you by being in most of our studies, your participation may help us learn more about how the brain works in both healthy individuals and those who use different drugs. As an additional thank you for participating, we will give you a T-shirt with a picture of your brain.

What will you do to protect my privacy?
We will keep the information we collect from the studies private to the extent possible by law. For example, we must legally report certain contagious diseases and information about child abuse. Everyone working on the study is required to keep your identity confidential. We take your privacy very seriously.

Who do I contact to participate and what happens next? -
The first step is to complete a phone interview (1-800-535-8254) where one of our recruiters will determine if you qualify for any of our studies. They will also be able to answer some of your questions. If you qualify, you will come to our research facility off Eastern Avenue in East Baltimore for a screening visit. This visit will take approximately 3-4 hours and may include a medical history and physical exam. You will also complete some questionnaires and may give a blood sample. The information from your screening exam will then be reviewed by one of our physicians who must approve your participation in studies (based on the results of the screening and the type of studies available). Once you have been approved, you will be contacted to schedule your study visits.

CLick here to participate in research