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  • Writer's pictureAaron Killion

Does Weed Help RLS? Cannabis and Restless Legs Overview

People suffering from restless leg syndrome (also restless legs syndrome/RLS) may wonder if cannabis could provide relief. So, does weed help RLS?


So far, restless leg syndrome is not a qualifying condition for medical cannabis in Arizona as there is insufficient research to back it up. However, some anecdotal evidence suggests that cannabis could provide symptomatic relief from the persistent symptoms of RLS, making it an option that’s worth exploring if sleep medications haven’t worked or have caused unpleasant side effects.


What Is RLS?


RLS is a sensorimotor disorder often associated with an unstoppable urge to move the legs. This sensation is sometimes accompanied by an unpleasant sensation or even pain. Patients suffering from restless leg syndrome usually note that their symptoms worsen during the evening, at night, or during periods of rest. Though activity can temporarily relieve the sensation, increasing daily activity isn't a cure.


Studies suggest that nearly 3% of the population in North America and Europe suffer from RLS in a moderate to severe form.


Impact of RLS

Restless leg syndrome can have a significant impact on sufferers' quality of life and quality of sleep. Apart from being distressing, sleep disorders are associated with a host of other negative health consequences including an increased risk of hypertension, obesity, diabetes, heart attack, and stroke.


Sleep physicians also note that sleep deficiency caused by RLS or other sleep disorders can have damaging effects on mental health. Sleep deficiency has been linked to symptoms like depression, an increased risk of suicide, and risk-taking behavior.


Restless Leg Syndrome vs. Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD)


It’s necessary to distinguish between restless leg syndrome and periodic limb movement disorder. Though these two disorders share some symptoms, there are several differences between them.



Restless Leg Syndrome

Periodic Limb Movement Disorder

Symptoms

Uncomfortable sensations cause an uncontrollable urge to move the legs.

Involuntary movement of either arms or legs occurs during sleep.

When Symptoms Occur

When awake, at rest, or when falling asleep

Only during sleep

Diagnosis

A clinical diagnosis is made based on the patient’s symptoms and history.

Polysomnography and electromyography tests confirm a diagnosis.

Treatment Options

Raising dopamine levels, lifestyle changes, and improved sleep hygiene

Identifying the underlying cause, some medications, and improved sleep hygiene


Before self-medicating with cannabis, it’s essential to know what you’re dealing with. A sleep specialist can recommend tests to confirm which condition you have and advise you on your treatment options.


Is RLS a Qualifying Condition in Arizona?


RLS is not an Arizona qualifying condition. However, RLS can sometimes overlap with other conditions that do qualify for a medical marijuana card.


For example, one study reported that patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) have a 19-fold increased risk of RLS than control subjects. Because ALS is a qualifying condition for MMJ in Arizona, patients suffering from RLS as a consequence of their ALS could potentially benefit from cannabis-based treatments.


In the same way, there is an overlap between post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and RLS. Patients using MMJ to treat their PTSD may or may not find that their RLS symptoms also improve. 


Our guides on the best strains for ALS and the best strains for PTSD are good places to start if you have one of these conditions and are considering MMJ.


How Cannabis Might Help With RLS


Unfortunately, rigorous study of cannabis efficacy for restless leg syndrome is so far lacking. However, a study by Dr. Imad Ghorayeb (2017) noted that a group of six patients with RLS reported total relief of RLS symptoms in addition to a huge improvement in their sleep quality. Five out of the six patients smoked marijuana occasionally or recreationally while another chose sublingual administration of cannabidiol. This study indicates that RLS patients may find some relief from cannabis and also that RLS symptoms may respond to different cannabinoids and consumption methods.


Is CBD or THC Better for RLS?


No official studies have specifically examined the effects of CBD vs THC in patients with restless leg syndrome, aside from the observation about sublingual CBD noted above. However, there has been research on how THC and CBD can affect sleep and sleep disorders in general. 


THC appears to decrease sleep latency but can also cause daytime sleepiness. According to the same article, CBD may help with daytime sleepiness. CBD may also improve sleep in people with anxiety by calming the nervous system. It could be worth experimenting with both THC and CBD (starting with low doses) to see which cannabinoid(s) and products help your symptoms the most.


Other Strategies to Try for RLS


Though there is currently no cure for RLS, there are some lifestyle-based strategies that may help with symptom relief. These include:


  • Avoiding or minimizing caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol consumption

  • Incorporating regular exercise into your routine (avoid exercise in the evening before you go to bed)

  • Following a consistent sleeping pattern

  • Massaging your legs

  • Stretching your legs or going for a walk


Seek Medical Advice for RLS Symptoms


RLS can cause negative consequences for your physical and mental health. For this reason, getting diagnosed and taking steps to treat your condition should be a priority.


Medical cannabis use could be included in your treatment schedule if you also suffer from ALS or PTSD and live in Arizona. Consult an expert medical marijuana doctor to learn how MMJ could help your condition.


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