CBD for Restless Legs
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a neurological movement disorder characterized by an inability to sit still, especially with an urge to move the legs. Victims describe the sensation as burning, searing, jolting, excruciating—any number of unpleasant descriptors to signify chronic pain.
It wasn't until recently this ailment became accepted as a true clinical disorder with distinct features. According to a report in Springer Nature, "Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is one of the most disabling and sometimes painful sensorimotor ailments of the nervous system." Estimates state that anywhere from 5% to 15% of the US population suffers from RLS, with about 3% moderate-to-severe cases. That number increases with age, if you're a woman, and if you're pregnant.
In addition, RLS is often associated with a variety of sleep disorders. According to the Sleep Foundation, "A study found that 88% of individuals with RLS reported at least one sleep-related symptom." Restless legs syndrome has been linked to anxiety and depression. Inactivity and stress typically worsen symptoms as well.
In addition to a painful urge to move the legs, RLS symptoms include:
- Mood swings
- Inability to concentrate
- Memory problems
- Short attention span
- Sleep deprivation and other sleep disorders
But for the first time in a long time, CBD products and other medicinal cannabis-derived products may offer relief to RLS patients. Cannabidiol (CBD) has shown promise in treating many of the root causes of restless legs: muscle spasticity, anxiety, and much more.
What Causes Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)?
According to the Center for the Advancement of Health, "RLS has no known cause, but a 2020 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health suggests that genetics, kidney disease, and an imbalance in the neurotransmitter levels in the brain may be the causative factors."
Furthermore, RLS has been attributed to several other medical conditions, iron deficiency, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, peripheral nerve damage, and beyond. Researchers have linked RLS symptoms to a wide range of medications, especially antidepressants and anti-nausea medications.
Traditional Treatments for RLS
How has humanity approached the treatment of RLS symptoms? The answer isn't so black and white.
"Because the probable causes of RLS cover a wide range of conditions—everything from an iron deficiency and a low level of dopamine in the brain to varicose veins—remedies are hard to come by," according to the Center for Vein Restoration. RLS treatment plans often differ from person to person, making any breakthroughs (like potential CBD for restless legs treatment) that much more significant.
The Center for the Advancement of Health advocates for discovering and treating the root cause of restless legs syndrome first. The first step in this process often involves a visit to your family doctor. Medical professionals are trained to identify potential causative factors and make medication or lifestyle change recommendations accordingly.
Traditional prescription drug recourse for RLS symptoms includes:
- Dopamine agonists
- Any combination of the above
Unfortunately, "A subset of patients remains refractory to medical therapy and serious side effects such as augmentation and impulse control disorder may occur in patients with RLS treated with dopamine agonists," according to Springer Nature. The side effects don't stop with just dopamine agonists, either. Opiates are known to induce psychosis, difficulty breathing, and in severe cases: coma or death. Benzodiazepines, on the other hand, come with side effects like confusion, memory problems, the weakening of the muscles, and sedation.
As you may have guessed, there is no clear-cut answer for RLS patients, who may have any number of individual RLS symptoms. This makes CBD products and other cannabis goods an appealing option. Remember: CBD oil was federally legalized in the US with the 2018 Farm Bill; other medical cannabis products like marijuana have been legalized in a handful of states, with more and more signing up each year.
Before we dive into the specifics of RLS and cannabis, there are other non-prescription drug therapies for RLS symptoms:
- Hot or cold packs
- Yoga and stretching
- Improve sleep hygiene
- Increase physical activity
Using Cannabis to Combat Restless Legs
According to the report in Springer Nature:
"Convincing treatment alternatives [for RLS] are lacking, but recently, patients' spontaneous reports of a remarkable and total remission of RLS symptoms following cannabis smoking has been reported in six patients. Since that first report, we have identified 12 additional patients who spontaneously admitted recreational marijuana smoking. Similar to patients in the first report, the additional patients complained of severe to very severe RLS symptoms and were treated with one or more available drugs for RLS with poor or limited efficacy, except for patient 12 who declined long-term drug intake. All but one patient (patient 2) admitted total relief of symptoms following cannabis smoking…Side effects were panic attacks in one patient (patient 6), but otherwise, bedtime cannabis smoking was well-tolerated."
Note: the Springer Nature report followed the use of marijuana, not CBD oil. However, many crossover benefits between CBD and THC (the primary cannabinoid found in marijuana) have been reported over the years. Plus, the term "cannabis" applies to both hemp (responsible for CBD products) and marijuana, meaning these plants share a closely-related chemical structure and resulting benefits when consumed.
This wouldn't be the first time cannabis has been used to treat neurological disorders. In fact, the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) endorses the use of cannabis (both CBD and THC) for the treatment of symptoms relating to…
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Parkinson's disease
- Huntington's disease
- Tourette's syndrome
- Cervical dystonia
The AAN believes there is the "strongest evidence for pure, oral CBD extracts" to lessen a patient's muscle spasticity and "moderate evidence for THC pills and oral sprays" to lessen a patient's spasticity and painful spasms.
Unfortunately, beyond the first and second reports of RLS patients and cannabis smoking, we do not have well-commissioned clinical trials validating all of this information. Furthermore, some RLS patients believe that CBD oil is more effective than marijuana-derived products at treating RLS symptoms, while scientists are inclined to promote THC over CBD.
CBD vs. THC for Restless Legs Syndrome
According to the Center for the Advancement of Health, "CBD, as research suggests, has properties that may help control your RLS symptoms and improve your quality of life. It's also non-psychoactive, non-toxic, and safe."
The main benefit: the relaxing effects of CBD are able to ease RLS-related anxieties and reduce overall muscle spasticity.
This aligns with the US government's beliefs about pure, high-quality CBD oil. There is one CBD oil-containing medication currently prescribed in the United States. Epidiolex is used to treat rare and severe epileptic disorders, characterized by extreme bouts of muscle spasticity and chronic, painful spasms or seizures.
However, as we mentioned above, scientists are inclined to promote THC over CBD for the treatment of RLS symptoms. It's not that CBD is ineffective for RLS patients, as this is not the case! In fact, the Center for Vein Restoration believes CBD is not a cure for RLS but "alleviates some of the painful side effects of the condition." Furthermore, CBD may help target related sleep disorders affiliated with RLS as well, perhaps improving the quality of life in patients.
But, the Springer Nature report mentioned earlier: "These patients admitted the superiority of cannabis smoking over the use of cannabidiol [CBD] for symptom relief." Study authors note the "patient's subjective estimation of the cannabis efficacy may also be skewed by the psychoactive and anxiolytic properties of the drug."
In layman's terms…
THC might not be more effective than CBD at treating RLS symptoms, but the intoxicating side effects of THC made study participants believe it was more effective.
To combat this potential research problem, Springer Nature scientists believe more well-controlled clinical trials are needed. We also suggest utilizing mixtures of both CBD and THC. For example, Full Spectrum CBD oils derive from hemp plants but retain hemp's natural 0.3% concentration of THC. This small amount of THC is non-intoxicating. However, it allows your body to access the therapeutic potential of marijuana without the high!
CBD for RLS in Conclusion
Do you or someone you know suffer from RLS? Have you used cannabis as a potential mitigator of RLS symptoms? Let us know in the comments!
Although limited, current research implicates cannabis products (both CBD and THC) as potential therapeutic options for RLS patients. Remember to always discuss RLS treatment options with a medical professional in order to receive the best quality advice on improving your overall health.
With that said, we are hopeful that continued clinical trials will help us increasingly understand the relationship between CBD and coping mechanisms for restless legs syndrome. To purchase the highest quality CBD oil around, visit CBD Choice's extensive directory of third-party lab-tested products!