Restless Legs Syndrome

Will a medical marijuana prescription help with symptoms of restless legs syndrome? Continue below to learn more. 

What is Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)?

Restless legs syndrome (RLS), aka Willis-Ekbom disease, is a sleep disorder that causes an intense, irresistible urge to move your legs. It occurs with other sensations like pulling, creeping, tugging, throbbing, itching, aching, burning, or crawling.

The sensations typically occur when lying or sitting for long periods. RLS typically occurs in the evening, making it difficult to fall asleep. People with Restless Legs Syndrome often walk around and shake their legs to help relieve the uncomfortable feeling.

What causes it?

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is genetic in most cases. Up to 92 percent of patients with RLS have a first-degree relative with the condition. 

In addition, many medical issues are associated with RLS, including:

  • Low iron levels.
  • Uremia.
  • Hypothyroidism.
  • Depression.
  • Fibromyalgia.
  • Parkinson’s disease.
  • Kidney disease.
  • Diabetes.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Peripheral neuropathy.
  • Pregnancy.
  • Dialysis.
  • Medications
  • Alcohol, nicotine, caffeine

Who gets Restless Legs Syndrome?

People of all ages can have RLS. Symptoms may begin in childhood or adulthood, but the chance of having the syndrome increases significantly with age. RLS is more common in women than in men. Approximately ten percent of the United States population has restless legs syndrome. 

What are the symptoms? 

Restless legs syndrome symptoms may include:

  • Leg discomfort
  • Urge to move legs
  • Sleep disruption
  • Bedtime behavior problems
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Behavior issues
  • Work performance problems

Diagnosis and Treatments

There isn’t a specific test available to diagnose restless legs syndrome (RLS). The diagnosis is made based on symptoms. A medical history, physical and neurological exam, or blood tests may be conducted to rule out other health issues. An overnight sleep study may be recommended to evaluate for sleep disorders. Your doctor will ask about a family history of RLS and if you have any sleep complaints due to symptoms. 

You must meet the following five criteria to receive a diagnosis of RLS:

  • An intense urge or desire to move your legs, accompanied by uncomfortable sensations such as aching, burning, crawling, itching, pulling, or tugging.

The urge to move or uncomfortable sensations may also:

  • Begin or worsen during rest or inactivity.
  • Relieved by stretching, walking, or exercising the affected muscles.
  • Worsen or occur solely in the evening.
  • Not due to another medical or behavioral issue. 

Treatment of restless legs syndrome depends on the intensity of the symptoms. You should consider therapy if your quality of life is affected by insomnia and excessive daytime drowsiness. Specific treatment is also necessary in cases of RLS due to ongoing medical disorders.

  1. Iron Supplements
  2. Prescription Medications
  3. Non-drug treatments
  • Regular exercise, such as riding a bike or walking but no intense exercise at night. 
  • Getting 7 to 9 hours and following other healthy sleep habits.
  • Limiting caffeinated products, nicotine, and alcohol. 
  • Applying a heating pad or cold compress to relieve discomfort. 
  • Soak in a warm tub.
  • Try magnesium supplements. 
  • Meditation, yoga, soft music.

What is Insomnia?

Insomnia is a sleep disorder that is common among American adults. This condition can make it hard to fall and stay asleep throughout the night. Patients report being tired when waking, which can affect energy levels, mood, work performance, quality of life, and overall health. 

Most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep a night, although that varies per individual. 

Short-term insomnia can last for days or weeks and is typically the result of stress or a traumatic event. Some people experience long-term insomnia that lasts for a month or two. 

Long-term insomnia is often associated with other medical conditions or prescribed medication. Simple changes in daily habits can help get your sleep cycle back on schedule, although sometimes alternative treatments are needed.

How do cannabinoids affect sleep?

A recent study reported that cannabis shortens the time it takes to fall asleep, both for sleep problems and for people who fall asleep without trouble. Many researchers agree that the sleep-enhancing effects of cannabinoids are due to their interactions and how they bind with cannabinoid receptors in the human brain. When cannabinoids bind to these receptors, they send messages to increase adenosine levels and suppress the brain’s arousal system. Combined, these two effects may help cannabis users feel tired, so there is less time counting sheep and more time dreaming.

Can medical cannabis help RLS? 

CBD has anti-inflammatory qualities, can reduce pain, and even fully treat pain in some patients. It is also an antioxidant and can help reduce long-term inflammation. CBD contains cannabinoid receptors that can block chronic pain signals in the brain and trigger an increased immune response.   

Per the Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation, THC and CBD dosages will vary by the individual since everyone metabolizes cannabinoids differently. Even without the psychoactive effects, cannabis has been known to help promote healthy sleep patterns and provide pain relief for RLS symptoms. 

Cannabis research on restless legs syndrome is still in the early stages, so scientific data is still being researched and gathered. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that MMJ patients may find relief from symptoms after cannabis consumption. 

Last Updated: July 25, 2023

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