Restless Legs Syndrome: Medical cannabis as a therapy option
People with restless legs syndrome (RLS) complain of a strong urge to move their legs at night. Mostly also about tingling and aching legs. This is known as restless legs syndrome (RLS), a frequently occurring neurological disease.
The study situation regarding the therapy with medical cannabis for movement disorders is not yet clear. However, the results so far are promising.
Restless Legs Syndrome: typical symptoms
As its name suggests, the main symptom of this condition is to have restless legs. Those people affected by restless legs syndrome feel the urge to move their legs constantly. In addition, unpleasant feelings or sensations such as pulling or tingling in the legs can also occur. Frequently, cramp-like complaints and pain also occur.
Basically, patients experience RLS differently. While for some the urge to move is particularly agonizing, others suffer more from the sensations. In addition, both legs are not always affected at the same time. Thus, the complaints can occur in only one leg or they occur alternating in both legs.
However, it is typical for RLS that the symptoms worsen in sitting and lying down. Movements, on the other hand, provide relief. The following symptoms may also accompany the disease:
- Difficulty falling asleep and sleeping through the night
- Tiredness during the day
- Concentration disorders
Restless Legs Syndrome: What are the causes?
So far, the exact causes have not been clarified. Researchers suspect that the dopamine metabolism in the brain might be disturbed – similar to Parkinson’s disease, which also causes movement disorders. As a result of this disorder, the transmission of nerve signals can be defective. But a disturbance in the brain stem and cerebellum could also be the cause.
An inherited component may also be a possible cause. In the meantime, a gene has been identified that could be involved in the development of the neurological disease. However, the exact connections have not yet been clarified. It is also questionable whether this is the sole cause.
What forms of restless legs syndrome are there?
RLS distinguishes between the following two forms:
- Primary Restless Legs Syndrome (idiopathic form): The causes are not known here.
- Secondary restless legs syndrome: In the secondary form, the disease occurs as a result of other diseases. For example, the diseases diabetes mellitus, polyneuropathy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s syndrome or thyroid dysfunction can trigger RLS. However, vitamin B12 deficiency, folic acid deficiency or iron deficiency can also be the cause.
What medications can cause restless legs syndrome?
It is now known that certain drugs can also trigger or even aggravate the syndrome. This is especially true for drugs that interfere with the brain metabolism. These include, for example, drugs with a mood-lifting effect (antidepressants).
Restless Legs Syndrome: diagnosis and therapy
The diagnosis is based on the typical RLS symptoms:
- The urge to move the legs only manifests itself at rest.
- The urge to move increases in resting phases.
- Sensations such as tingling, pulling or pain in the legs occur.
- The RLS symptoms are more pronounced in the evening or at night.
In addition, a blood test is carried out to rule out possible deficiencies. An extensive neurological examination is also necessary.
To confirm the diagnosis, doctors often carry out a so-called L-Dopa test. If the RLS symptoms improve while taking L-Dopa, this can confirm the diagnosis. If the symptoms do not improve, this does not mean yet that RLS is not present. This is because the connections between RLS and dopamine metabolism have not yet been definitively clarified.
The treatment of restless legs depends on how severe the symptoms are and how much the patient suffers. If it is possible triggering diseases have been excluded, the patient can be prescribed an L-dopa preparation (e.g. levodopa). It is also possible to combine the active substances levodopa and benserazide, as well as drug therapy with dopamine agonists (e.g. ropinirole, pramipexole or rotigotine). Dopamine agonists can imitate the messenger substance dopamine and thus develop a dopamine-like effect.
If it is a very pronounced and painful form of RLS, patients are sometimes prescribed anti-epileptic drugs or strong painkillers (opioids).
What helps against restless legs syndrome?
If the syndrome is mild to moderate, patients can help themselves with various measures. For example, many RLS patients report that foot baths, alternating showers and leg massages can alleviate the symptoms. Stretching exercises and regular sport can also help to alleviate symptoms. Patients should also avoid alcohol, caffeinated drinks and nicotine before going to bed, as these substances can increase the symptoms.
Furthermore, the intake of vitamin B12, folic acid and iron could also have a beneficial effect. However, this should be discussed in advance with the doctor treating you.
Medical cannabis as a therapy option
Clinical studies on the use of medical cannabis in restless legs syndrome are very few and far between. Nevertheless, these few studies are promising. At the Université de Bordeaux in France there was a case study with six RLS patients who used cannabis to relieve the symptoms (1). Five of the patients reported that the symptoms disappeared almost completely after cannabis use. One patient even spoke of complete remission. The patients further explained that the quality of sleep improved significantly under cannabis use.
Interesting is also a study from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. It is known that cannabinoids from the cannabis plant such as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) interact with the cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2 receptors) of the endocannabinoid system. The researchers found indications that this could also regulate dopamine release. This dopamine regulation has already been shown to be effective in the treatment of movement disorders, for example in Parkinson’s disease.
Cannabidiol (CBD) against restless legs
Various studies suggest that the non-psychoactive cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD) may relieve symptoms such as tremor, anxiety and sleep disturbances. The use of CBD in restless legs syndrome could be considered as a solution to the anxiety and sleep problems (2).
With regard to CBD and movement disorders, the study results are inconclusive. For example, in one study, Parkinson’s patients did not experience symptom relief from CBD therapy (3). The researchers believe that CBD might play less of a therapeutic role, but could be used preventively in Parkinson’s Disease. Further research is needed, however.
The current study data are not yet sufficient to draw conclusions regarding the movement disorders associated with restless legs syndrome. Despite the widespread publicity about the medical benefits of cannabinoids, further pre-clinical and clinical studies are necessary to better characterize the pharmacological and therapeutic effects.
(1) Département de Neurophysiologie Clinique, France, Megelin T1, Ghorayeb I2, 2017, “Cannabis for restless legs syndrome: a report of six patients”
Alexandra Latour verfügt über langjähre Erfahrungen als Autorin im medizinischen Bereich. Ab dem Jahr 2017 hat sie sich als Medical Writer auf das Thema Cannabis als Medizin spezialisiert und war für Leafly Deutschland tätig.
Clinical studies on the use of medical cannabis in restless legs syndrome are very few and far between. Nevertheless, these few studies are promising.
CBD Oil – A Natural Treatment for Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)
What Is Restless Leg Syndrome?
Known as Willis-Ekbom disease, the more common name for this condition is Restless Leg Syndrome, shortened to the initials of RLS. It is a neurological condition that affects around one in ten people. Many sufferers have only mild symptoms, but for some, it is severe and can be a miserable condition to live with.
The symptoms usually include a throbbing, tingling or crawling feeling in the legs, and sometimes in the arms or the rest of the body. These sensations are somewhat distracting and often very unpleasant, and are usually more intense at night-time resulting in a loss of sleep. To relieve these sensations, the urge to move around or rub the limbs becomes overwhelming. It is difficult to sit still or remain lying down for long periods of time as the compulsion to move is so strong.
During sleep, limbs can often twitch at frequent intervals, enough to disturb the sleep of both the sufferer and sometimes their partners. Natural remedies for Restless Leg Syndrome are often sought to help with the lack of sleep as it adversely affects every aspect of daily life.
What Causes Restless Leg Syndrome?
Some evidence has shown that RLS is connected to problems with dopamine levels. Dopamine helps to regulate movement, and if there are low levels of the chemical in the brain, involuntary movement can become an issue. Dopamine levels naturally lower at the end of the day and might be a contributory factor to RLS worsening at night. A deficit of iron in the bloodstream is strongly linked to low dopamine levels, so anemia may be a cause of RLS.
Underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s Disease, and rheumatoid arthritis can also contribute to RLS. As can certain medications including some antidepressants, antihistamines, lithium, and antipsychotics.
It is known that genetics play some part in the condition, with RLS running in families. Some people suffer from Restless Legs with no known cause at all, with blood tests showing no abnormalities. No matter what the cause, CBD for restless legs can help in many cases. As a natural treatment for the condition, it is worth considering in most instances.
CBD Oil for Restless Leg Syndrome
Treating RLS is not easy and currently, no definitive cure is known. A regular GP will offer dopamine agonists and iron-increasing drugs, anti-seizure medication and sleeping tablets by way of treatment. Most of these drugs come with side-effects of one kind or another and they may not alleviate the symptoms at all.
CBD oil cannot cure the condition, but it can help manage the worst of the symptoms to make life more bearable. CBD oil offers RLS relief by calming and relaxing the body, and by assisting in a good night’s sleep. Involuntary movement is greatly reduced and anxiety is improved. CBD oil impacts dopamine and increases the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. Parkinson’s Disease symptoms can also be positively affected by CBD oil.
What Does Research Say About CBD Oil For RLS?
A small study 1 conducted at the Clinical Neurosciences Centre in Bordeaux, France concluded that 83% of participants saw a considerable reduction in their RLS symptoms. Looking into natural remedies for Restless Leg Syndrome, the study used just six individuals. While the small number of participants used means the study is statistically inconclusive, 5 out of the 6 people who took part saw an improvement in their condition.
In a separate study about Cannabis, Pain, and Sleep 2 it was established that cannabis helps with sleep, and RLS was mentioned as a condition that could be helped with the plant extract. As the lack of sleep is one of the most troubling symptoms, CBD for restless legs goes a long way to offer some relief.
How To Use CBD For Restless Leg Syndrome
There are a number of ways to take CBD oil for restless leg syndrome. With a variety of methods available when it comes to using CBD oil, it is possible to find the one that gives you the best RLS relief.
Fibromyalgia and Restless Leg Syndrome Natural Treatment
Around 30% of women with fibromyalgia also suffer from RLS. As a lack of sleep is a problem with both conditions, finding a natural treatment with no side effects will greatly improve daily life. Taking CBD oil for restless legs will have the added benefit of helping with symptoms of fibromyalgia at the same time, such as chronic pain in the muscles, depression and the inability to focus. Although there has been little scientific research into using CBD oil to treat fibromyalgia, it is gaining popularity with sufferers as an effective way to help control the symptoms. Users report a considerable improvement in their symptoms. Read more about CBD and Fibromyalgia in this article
Bottom Line – Is CBD Oil for Restless Legs an Effective Treatment?
CBD for Restless Leg Syndrome can be effective. The urge to move constantly is greatly reduced, resulting in a peaceful night’s sleep that benefits every aspect of the sufferer’s day. Whether the oil is taken orally, or a restless legs cream used, there is evidence that CBD works well for a large number of people. As a totally safe and inexpensive treatment, it is an effective way to improve day-to-day life.
Restless Legs Syndrome does not always need treatment. If the condition isn’t seriously impacting your life regularly, then alternative action might be all that is required to manage the symptoms. Exercise can go a long way to improving the condition, as can a change of diet and possibly losing weight.
Are you affected by Restless Leg Syndrome ? Maybe CBD Oil can help. It has shown promising results in treating RLS by relaxing the body for a better sleep.