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
A potential way to control dopamine dysfunction.
Posted Jul 27, 2020
- What Is Dopamine?
- Find a therapist near me
No one fully understands how the myriad blend of chemicals in the cannabis plant acts within the brain. One way to advance our knowledge is to examine what happens when our brain’s endogenous cannabis neurotransmitter system dysfunctions. One particular condition of interest is Restless Leg Syndrome.
Restless Leg Syndrome generally worsens with age and often disrupts sleep. The main symptom, as the name suggests, is a nearly irresistible urge to move the legs. Getting up and moving around helps the feeling temporarily go away; however, there is no cure and the symptoms can last a lifetime. The effectiveness of one novel therapy provides insight into a potential link between the endogenous cannabis neurotransmitter system and the neurotransmitter dopamine.
What is the role of dopamine in the brain? The function of each neurotransmitter depends entirely on the function of the structure in which it is located. Deep within your brain is a region called the basal ganglia. The neurons in the basal ganglia are responsible for producing normal well-controlled smooth movements. The level of the neurotransmitter dopamine in these nuclei is much higher than in most surrounding brain regions. Therefore, scientists have concluded that dopamine within the basal ganglia is critically involved in the control of movement. Furthermore, if we expose our brain to a drug that impairs the function of dopamine, then our ability to move is greatly impaired. Dopamine is obviously critical for movement and it is easy to see how dopamine dysfunction might be involved in Restless Leg Syndrome.
Dopamine is also found in the retina of your eye and in your hypothalamus, structures that have nothing to do with movement. Dopamine also is released into small regions deep within the frontal lobes; when this happens, you experience a feeling of pleasure. Dopamine is not the brain’s only “feel good” neurotransmitter. For example, the release of acetylcholine in the septal area produces a feeling a well-being and joy, while the release of the neurotransmitters enkephalin or anandamide within the brain produces a feeling of euphoria. Surprisingly, dopamine plays virtually no role in the euphoria produced by cannabis. In fact, cannabis reduces (!) the release of dopamine, which is why levels of dopamine increase when using cannabis. Essentially, the levels of dopamine increase in the brain after cannabis use because the neurons have stopped releasing it.
So, what explains the benefits of cannabis for Restless Leg Syndrome? The brains of patients with Restless Leg Syndrome may be in what is called a “hyper-dopaminergic state” – too much dopamine is being released inside the basal ganglia.
Recent studies have shown that chronic cannabis use is associated with reduced dopamine synthesis capacity. Thus, the efficacy of cannabis in patients with Restless Leg Syndrome may be due to its ability to prevent the excessive release of dopamine and restore normal neural activity in the basal ganglia.
It is too soon to claim that we understand the role of the brain’s endogenous cannabis system in Restless Leg Syndrome. However, as more information accumulates it might one day be possible to design effective cannabis-like drugs for a variety of human disorders of the brain.
Recent research links the brain’s endogenous cannabis system and dopamine dysfunction with Restless Leg Syndrome.