Does Cannabis Relieve Symptoms Of Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)?
Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a neurological condition that can severely impact one’s quality of life. Here’s the latest on using cannabis to treat the symptoms of restless leg syndrome.
For many people who suffer from restless leg syndrome (RLS), the worst part about the condition is not just the uncomfortable sensations they have to endure. Often times, RLS can have serious implications on one’s overall quality of life. In this domain, research is now suggesting that cannabis may provide relief from some RLS symptoms.
WHAT IS RESTLESS LEG SYNDROME?
Restless leg syndrome (RLS), sometimes referred to as Willis-Ekbom Disease or Wittmaack-Ekbom Syndrome, is a condition where people experience tingling and itching sensations in their legs, with an irresistible urge to move them. The syndrome was discovered and classified by Swedish neurologist Dr. Karl-Axel Ekbom in 1943.
RLS can affect people of all ages in various ways, although the symptoms often get more pronounced with age. Moreover, symptoms are usually at their worst when people are sitting or lying down; moving around can provide a certain degree of relief. Then again, RLS doesn’t affect everyone the same. There are also those symptoms that are not eased by moving about, such as any combination of:
- Unpleasant sensations of tingling, itching, or sensations like “ants crawling” on the legs
- Restlessness, tossing and turning in bed paired with sleeping problems
- Involuntary twitching and jolting of the legs during sleep or waking hours
- A constant urge to move the legs to relieve uncomfortable sensations
- Fatigue and sleepiness
What causes RLS is not exactly known, although it is believed that it can develop as a side effect from certain medications. Since it is unclear what the root cause of restless leg syndrome is, this also means that there are currently no effective ways to prevent it—but there are ways to alleviate the symptoms.
HOW RLS CAN AFFECT LIFESTYLE
One of the most frustrating aspects of this condition is that symptoms tend to worsen in the evening. Because of that, sufferers often have serious problems falling asleep and/or frequently waking up at night. As a result, RLS can sustain a huge impact on one’s quality of life.
But lack of sleep is not the only way RLS affects peoples’ lives; the pain and discomfort experienced can be enough for sufferers to avoid social gatherings where they would need to sit or stand for an extended time. As people are forced to withdraw from their social life, this can lead to isolation, anxiety, and depression.
It is estimated that up to 10% of people in the United States are affected by RLS. Although there is no cure for this condition, evidence is now mounting that cannabis can possibly help relieve some symptoms.
HOW CANNABIS CAN HELP RELIEVE THE SYMPTOMS OF RLS
Although restless leg syndrome has now been known for quite some time, it is only recently that treating the disorder with alternative methods, including cannabis, has come to the forefront. Previously, the only way to alleviate the symptoms of RLS was to use pharmaceuticals, massages, warm baths, hot and cold compresses, foot wraps, and specific exercises. Recent studies indicate that cannabis may help with RLS as well.
A study  performed at the Clinical Neurosciences Center at Bordeaux University Hospital found medicinal cannabis to alleviate RLS symptoms in a small group of subjects. For the study, six RLS patients were given medical cannabis containing CBD. Five of the six reported that their symptoms entirely disappeared after consuming cannabis. All of the participants in the study reported an improvement in their sleep after their treatment with cannabis ended.
In a study on “Sleep, Pain and Cannabis”  published in 2015 in the Journal of Sleep Disorders and Therapy, researchers mention the proven abilities of cannabis to relieve pain and promote sleep. In their report, the researchers suggest that cannabis could possibly help with such conditions as sleep apnoea or RLS—conditions that involve sleeping troubles and/or pain. However, the researchers do conclude that more research in this area is needed.
Although medical studies on using cannabis to treat RLS symptoms are sparse, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence among RLS patients that it can certainly make coping with the disorder easier. The word is still out on whether cannabis can directly address the underlying causes of the condition, but its relaxing, pain-relieving, and soothing effects may help patients get to sleep, and perhaps reduce some of their anxiety or depression symptoms too.
WHICH CANNABIS STRAINS ARE BEST FOR RLS?
If you want help with RLS, cannabis strains that have a sedating and/or pain-relieving effect can be best. Look for strains that are high in THC (to promote drowsiness) and/or high in CBD (to reduce anxiety) because such strains can help you achieve a good night’s sleep.
For fast relief, you can just smoke or vape these strains to enjoy their sedative and pain-relieving properties. You can also make them into edibles, oils, or even topical ointments so you have a variety of methods at hand. You can then keep track of which methods work best for you!
We recommend these cannabis strains if you’re seeking relief from RLS:
Purple Queen is a gorgeous indica-dominant Kush variety that can provide you with a deeply relaxing physical stone. Dreamland will not be far away after a few tokes of this one.
SPECIAL KUSH #1
Special Kush is another good candidate if you need help with RLS symptoms. This modern variant of an old-school Kush has a hash-like flavour and serious indica dominance (80%). Expect a robust body stone that relaxes the limbs and gently eases you off to sleep.
TREATING RLS WITH CANNABIS—THE TAKEAWAY
Even as we wait for more studies to unveil cannabis’ full potential for treating restless leg syndrome, many patients say it’s worth it to experiment with the herb to find relief. Anecdotal accounts may not be entirely verifiable, but the success stories are certainly growing in number. Hopefully, we can look forward to more research on treating RLS with cannabis in the near future.
Restless leg syndrome can be more than an inconvenience—it can completely disrupt your lifestyle. Is cannabis able to provide relief from RLS symptoms?
Cannabis for Restless Leg Syndrome
Learn the research relating to the use of cannabis for restless leg syndrome.
What is restless leg syndrome?
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is a neurological disorder defined by an uncontrollable urge to move your legs. This urge is typically a result of uncomfortable sensations; described as tingling, “pins and needles,” prickling, pulling, or crawling. Symptoms are typically worst during the evening or nighttime hours and when a person is sitting down. Moving your legs does provide temporary relief but does not solve the problem. Because the symptoms occur during the evening and night the most significant impact is on a persons’ sleep.
Though restless leg syndrome does most commonly affect a person’s legs it can also affect their arms and/or torso.
There is no one cause of restless leg syndrome. There appears to be a genetic link as it can run in families and it can be caused by other conditions, like low iron. But, for most people who seek treatment there is no clear cause (see HealthlinkBC for more information about causes).
Traditional Treatment for RLS
For those with mild symptoms, lifestyle changes help manage the symptoms. Sleep Hygiene is a fantastic place to start when it comes to sleep-related disorders, check out our detailed post on sleep hygiene. But, we will discuss the changes you can make that are directly related to restless leg syndrome here:
- Exercise: Regular exercise is a healthy activity for our bodies and our brains. Though note that moderate activities such as walking relieves symptoms while exercising too much or at too great an intensity can increase symptoms.
- Stress Reduction Techniques: Stress can aggravate symptoms, so try relaxation activities like yoga or meditation. This is particularly helpful if done in the evening before bed.
- Quit smoking and drink less caffeine & alcohol: Each of these may worsen the symptoms of restless legs syndrome.
- Massage your legs or soak in a hot bath: These can help relax your muscles and alleviate the symptoms.
Use of Medication
Medication is used for those who have moderate to severe symptoms. The medications used are ones that impact the neurotransmitters in the brain, like dopamine. Often these are the same medications used for Parkinson’s Disease or for seizures. For those who experience a lot of pain as a result of RLS are sometimes prescribed painkillers like opiates. Read more about the use of medications for RLS here .
It’s interesting to note the types of medication used for RLS because we’ve already seen that cannabis can be an effective alternative to these medications. Read more about Parkinson’s Disease and Epilepsy (seizures). There are often problems associated with medications like side effects, tolerance, and addiction; therefore in some cases, cannabis can be a healthier alternative.
Cannabis and Restless Leg Syndrome
The major problem associated with RLS is the impact it has on a person’s sleep. Therefore, we can approach cannabis use from the perspective of getting better overall sleep. We talk about how cannabis and CBD can be used to get better sleep and manage insomnia in-depth here.
Initial research on cannabis and sleep shows that cannabis has a significant impact on a person’s ability to fall asleep. One study found that cannabis shortens the time it takes to fall asleep, both for people regardless of whether or not they normally have trouble with sleep. Those people with active difficulty falling asleep, cannabis use resulted in an average of 30 minutes less time in falling asleep. And those who did not have regular trouble falling asleep cannabis use helped them fall asleep even faster, by 15 minutes.
Though restless leg syndrome is more than simply disturbed sleep. People with RLS often experience painful feelings in their legs and therefore use muscle relaxation techniques to relieve symptoms. CBD has strong muscle relaxant and nerve calming effects which can really ease the discomfort of restless legs as well as help with the pain. You can also use cannabis topicals for restless leg syndrome; apply the topical directly to the site of discomfort.
But what does the research say specifically about cannabis and restless leg syndrome?
Unfortunately, there are few clinical trials specifically studying restless leg syndrome. Though one 2017 study discovered that inhaled medicinal cannabis lessened RLS symptoms. Five out of the six subjects experienced full symptom remission, and CBD played a large role in symptom alleviation. After the cannabis treatment ended, all participants experienced sleep improvements. As is the case with many conditions more research is in progress, an Israeli company is currently studying CBD as a treatment for RLS.
Despite the lack of clinical data, there is lots of anecdotal support for the use of cannabis for relieving symptoms of RLS. Check out some of the comments on Sleep Review Mag .
Best strain for Restless Leg Syndrome
With RLS we are focused on sleep, muscle relaxation and pain. So, we recommend starting with indica dominant hybrids that are higher in CBD content. Check out Leafy’s guide to strains that improve sleep as a place to start and talk to your local dispensary.
For those less experienced cannabis users, it may make sense to start with CBD only (vape pen or tincture, or consider CBD caps for easy dosing). THC not only produces a psychoactive high but can make you feel a bit groggy in the morning if you use too much. If you don’t see results from CBD alone after a week consider adding small amounts of THC as they interact with different receptors in the body. We suggest starting with a 3:1 CBD/THC tincture.
Cannabis topicals for Restless Leg Syndrome
Topicals are used for muscle relaxation. So, they can be added to your nightly routine to help manage symptoms associated with RLS. Miss Envy has Buddha Buddha creams that are applied directly to the skin. We also suggest trying a soothing THC bath bomb in your hot bath before bed to add to your relaxation. Note that even though these are THC products you will not experience a high from these body products.
So, even as we wait to see the results of more studies on cannabis and RLS people are seeing results. So, it’s worth experimenting with cannabis to see if it may work for you. Just remember to start at a lower dose and slowly work your way up over a few days until you feel the relief you’re looking for.
Use cannabis for restless leg syndrome and get a better sleep. Even use cannabis topicals for restless leg to relax you muscles.