Cannabis for Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)
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.
Leave us a comment or tag us on social @miss.envybotanicals to let us know what sleep remedies work best for you.