When hemp-derived CBD was legalized with the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, we couldn’t predict the strides it would make as a legitimate medical treatment option. From thyroid issues to Lyme disease, the cannabinoid is increasingly recognized for its benefits. Restless legs syndrome is another in a vast sea of ailments that benefits from CBD treatment.
What is restless legs syndrome?
Restless legs syndrome (RLS), also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, is a nervous system disorder that causes a powerful, overwhelming urge to move, especially during periods of rest. Many describe the impulse as a tugging, pulling, creeping, crawling, throbbing, gnawing, aching, itching, or burning feeling in the limbs.
The symptoms of RLS can be difficult to explain due to the compulsive nature of the condition. Most don’t think of it as muscle cramping or numbness, or as occurring on the skin. Rather, RLS presents as an uncomfortable urge from within the body.
Symptoms usually begin or significantly worsen during restful states like sitting, lying down, or sleeping. Restlessness can be relieved with activity, but that relief is usually temporary.
Although the condition primarily affects the legs, sensations of restlessness can also occur in the arms, neck, and head. Symptoms of RLS include:
- Discomfort in the limbs
- Urges to move the limbs
- Disrupted sleep patterns
- Daytime drowsiness
- Behavioral and work performance issues due to moodiness, irritability, difficulty concentrating, or hyperactivity
Because RLS symptoms typically arise at night or during periods of rest, the disorder disrupts healthy sleep patterns and leaves patients feeling fatigued. RLS is most often characterized as a sleep disorder due to its tendency to disrupt rest cycles; however, many experience symptoms throughout the day. The resulting severe, chronic drowsiness can be incapacitating and seriously impair your quality of life.
How is it treated?
Treatments range according to the severity of the conditions. Treating mild or moderate cases of RLS focuses on lifestyle changes such as:
- Improving sleep habits by avoiding activities like reading or electronic use while in bed and reserving your bed for sleep only
- Getting regular exercise
- Reducing stress
- Limiting caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol consumption
- Relaxing your limbs through light stretching or massage, or by applying a cold compress or heating pad
- Soaking in a warm tub, especially before bedtime
Unfortunately, some find their symptoms to be severe and relentless. These cases are more often treated using prescription medications, including:
- Dopamine agonists (e.g. Requip or Mirapex)
- Anti-seizure drugs (e.g. Horizant or Neurontin)
- Benzodiazepines (e.g. Klonopin or Ativan)
- Opioids (e.g. methadone or oxycodone)
How can CBD Help?
Lifestyle changes and prescription drugs don’t work for everybody. To make matters worse, some RLS patients find that their medications come with unwanted or even debilitating side effects.
When routine treatments are ineffective, many seek out natural remedies. One such option is hemp-derived cannabidiol, or CBD. In fact, this non-psychoactive compound is gaining traction as a powerful alternative treatment for RLS.
CBD functions as a sleep aid, anti-anxiety, and anti-spasmodic agent. The potent cannabinoid is known not only as a treatment for RLS: it also relieves ailments like celiac disease, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), fibromyalgia, and multiple sclerosis (MS), among others.
CBD Promotes Better Sleep
Patients suffering from RLS find that the condition most greatly impacts their ability to regularly engage in restful sleep. Without adequate sleep, you may find your cognitive functioning impaired. This makes focusing on day-to-day tasks extremely difficult, which may lead to poor work performance or reduced behavioral functioning overall.
CBD improves sleep by triggering the hypothalamus, an important region of the brain that regulates our circadian rhythms. By acting on the hypothalamus’ endocannabinoid receptors, CBD helps the body progress through sleep cycles without interruption.
This 2019 study determines that CBD use significantly increases sleep scores while decreasing anxiety scores in patients diagnosed with sleep and anxiety disorders. Additionally, a recent 2023 study concludes that CBD improves both sleep disturbances and overall sleep quality substantially.
Some find a nightly dose of CBD beneficial in bettering their sleep routines. Gummies can be especially convenient before bed because they are easy to dose. We love this one from Bee’s Knees Wellness – it’s formulated specifically for sleep and is boosted with a small dose of melatonin!
CBD fights stress and anxiety
Because RLS inhibits meaningful sleep, many patients find themselves suffering from stress, anxiety, and other mood disturbances. Regular, adequate sleep is necessary for emotional well-being, and restless patients are often plagued with emotional distress.
Fortunately, CBD treats emotional disruptions commonly associated with RLS. It reduces anxiety by interacting with serotonin receptors in the brain, which play an important role in mood regulation.
Several studies have found a notable link between CBD and mood regulation. One study concluded that CBD positively impacted limbic and paralimbic brain activity and significantly decreased anxiety in patients with diagnosed social anxiety disorder (SAD). Another study found that CBD decreased anxiety scores within just a month of treatment.
CBD acts as an anti-spasmodic
While RLS doesn’t necessarily cause muscle spasms, it can lead to sore muscles due to the constant urge to move the limbs accompanied by a lack of sleep. With this in mind, it’s important to note CBD’s anti-spasmodic properties.
CBD relieves muscle aches by targeting the neurotransmitters that trigger muscle contractions. With extended use, CBD builds up in the endocannabinoid system to relieve the continuous muscle contractions that lead to chronic tension and fatigue. The cannabinoid is well-documented for reducing the severe spasticity associated with MS.
While research into CBD’s direct impact on restless legs syndrome is ongoing, plenty of studies confirm the cannabinoid’s ability to treat the symptoms that accompany the condition. We hope that, as CBD increasingly becomes a mainstream treatment option, researchers focus scientific analysis on discovering a direct link between CBD and RLS.