May 30, 2024

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Restless Legs Syndrome and CBD: Benefits, Side Effects, Dosage

8 min read
Restless Legs Syndrome and CBD: Benefits, Side Effects, Dosage

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) causes unpleasant sensations in the legs, along with an overwhelming urge to move them.

Symptoms tend to be strongest in the evening, when you’re least active. They can also flare up when you lie down in bed. RLS can make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep, which can become a serious quality-of-life issue.

Some anecdotal evidence suggests that cannabidiol (CBD) may help ease symptoms of RLS. However, there haven’t been many studies focusing on CBD for RLS.

This article will cover the research, potential benefits, and side effects of using CBD for RLS, along with information about dosage and the types of CBD products that are available.

Atsushi Yamada / Taxi Japan / Getty Images


What Is CBD?

CBD is a cannabinoid, a naturally occurring compound found in the cannabis plant. 

It’s not the same as medical marijuana. Marijuana contains a significant amount of another cannabinoid called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the substance that produces psychoactive effects that make you feel “high.”

CBD is extracted from hemp. The difference between marijuana and hemp is the amount of THC. Hemp contains less than 0.3{b574a629d83ad7698d9c0ca2d3a10ad895e8e51aa97c347fc42e9508f0e4325d} THC, which isn’t enough to get you high.

THC vs. CBD

Cannabis is a plant of the Cannabaceae family. Cannabis products come from its leaves, stems, seeds, and flowering tops. Cannabis contains more than 120 naturally occurring substances called cannabinoids. THC and CBD are two of the main cannabinoids. THC is the substance that produces a high. CBD is a nonintoxicating substance that may have therapeutic effects. 

Research Around CBD and RLS

There hasn’t been much research to assess the effectiveness of CBD in the treatment of RLS. 

It does appear, however, that some people are using it for that purpose. In a small 2021 survey based primarily in the United Kingdom, more than 42{b574a629d83ad7698d9c0ca2d3a10ad895e8e51aa97c347fc42e9508f0e4325d} of respondents said they used CBD to improve sleep or for insomnia, while another 5{b574a629d83ad7698d9c0ca2d3a10ad895e8e51aa97c347fc42e9508f0e4325d} reported using CBD for RLS.

A small 2019 study on the efficacy of smoking cannabis for RLS suggests that regular use of cannabis may reduce symptoms of RLS. A notable limitation is that study participants smoked cannabis containing THC. It’s possible that results are distorted by THC’s psychoactive and antianxiety properties.

More large-scale studies on CBD and RLS are needed.

Types of CBD Products

The three main types of CBD products are:

  • CBD isolate: This type is also called “pure CBD” because all other cannabinoids have been removed.
  • Broad spectrum: This type contains three or more other cannabinoids. It may have terpenes and flavonoids, which provide aromas, flavors, and colors. It does not contain THC.
  • Full spectrum: Also known as “whole flower CBD,” it’s almost the same as broad spectrum. However, it can contain up to 0.3{b574a629d83ad7698d9c0ca2d3a10ad895e8e51aa97c347fc42e9508f0e4325d} THC.

These products are available in many forms, including:

  • Oral tablets and capsules
  • Chewables and gummies
  • Tinctures, oils, and extracts
  • Patches, creams, and lotions
  • Spray
  • Vape pens

What to Look for in CBD Products for RLS

Once you decide on the type of CBD product, it’s important to look for a reputable source. 

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), some CBD products are marketed with unproven medical claims and are of unknown quality. The agency hasn’t approved any nonprescription CBD products. 

CBD products sold in dispensaries must have a label that lists exactly how much CBD it contains. It should also state whether it contains THC. 

If you don’t have access to a dispensary, another good option is a trusted pharmacy. You can also buy CBD products online, but be careful about the source. One study of online CBD products found that:

  • 31{b574a629d83ad7698d9c0ca2d3a10ad895e8e51aa97c347fc42e9508f0e4325d} were accurately labeled.
  • 43{b574a629d83ad7698d9c0ca2d3a10ad895e8e51aa97c347fc42e9508f0e4325d} had more CBD than labeled.
  • 26{b574a629d83ad7698d9c0ca2d3a10ad895e8e51aa97c347fc42e9508f0e4325d} had less CBD than labeled.

No matter where you get CBD, always ask for a certificate of analysis (COA). This document provides information such as:

  • The date of the report, so you know it’s recent
  • The name of the third-party lab that performed the testing, along with its license number
  • The potency of a variety of cannabinoids, including CBD and THC
  • Whether the product passed safety tests for contaminants

Things to avoid:

  • Illegally sold synthetic CBD products, including those marketed as “bath salts” or “spice,” which can cause a psychotic reaction in some people
  • CBD added to food or labeled as a dietary supplement, which is illegal
  • Products that claim to prevent or cure a health condition
  • Products that list only “total cannabinoids” rather than breaking them down separately
  • Products without a COA

CBD Dosage for RLS

The FDA has approved prescription CBD products for the treatment of certain seizure disorders. The agency hasn’t granted approval for any other use. And because research on CBD for RLS is limited, there’s no standardized dose.

It’s best to start with a low dose and build up slowly, if needed. Discuss dosing with a healthcare provider or pharmacist and ask about possible interactions with any medicines or supplements you take.

Benefits of CBD for RLS

People from all walks of life are using CBD for specific health conditions, including RLS and sleep problems. Many say CBD helps in the absence of conventional medicine alternatives and with few troublesome side effects.

Since research specific to CBD for RLS is scarce, the benefits are unclear. If you try CBD for RLS, it may be helpful to keep a journal of the CBD product, dose, and your response. Over time, this may clarify whether it’s beneficial for you.

Side Effects of CBD for RLS

CBD is a naturally derived product, but natural products can cause side effects. Side effects of CBD can include:

  • Sleepiness
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea
  • Decreased appetite
  • Upset stomach
  • Irritability

Due to limited controlled studies, there’s not enough information to properly assess risks such as:

  • Cumulative effects
  • Food interactions
  • Effects on older populations, children, and adolescents
  • Effects during pregnancy or while breastfeeding
  • Interactions with common medications

There may be an increased risk of liver damage in people who take medicines that affect the liver. There may be interactions between CBD and immunosuppressive drugs used for organ transplants, as well as with chemotherapy or Coumadin or Jantoven (warfarin).

Other Treatment Options

There’s no cure for RLS, though it’s possible to minimize symptoms and improve sleep. You may not need treatment if your symptoms are mild.

Some non-pharmaceutical treatments that may help include:

  • Avoid or cut back on alcohol and tobacco.
  • Set up a regular sleep schedule, going to bed at the same time each night and getting up at the same time each morning.
  • Perform leg-stretching exercises and massage your legs as needed.
  • Take a warm bath before bed.
  • Apply an ice pack or heating pad to your legs.
  • Try a compression foot wrap or a pad that delivers vibration to the back of your legs.

Medications to treat RLS include drugs that affect dopamine levels, such as:

  • Requip (ropinirole)
  • Mirapex (pramipexole)
  • Neupro (rotigotine)

Sometimes, anti-seizure drugs can help with symptoms of RLS. These include:

If those medications don’t work, opioids may be an option. These may include:

  • Methadone
  • Codeine
  • Hydrocodone
  • Oxycodone

Benzodiazepines such as clonazepam and lorazepam may help improve sleep.

Each of these drugs can produce serious side effects. It’s important to discuss the potential benefits and side effects with your healthcare provider.

Is Medical Marijuana Effective for RLS?

Research on the use of medical marijuana for RLS is limited. There are reports of total remission, suggesting that more scientific research, including controlled trials, is warranted. Marijuana contains THC, which can get you high. It also contains other substances that produce different side effects than CBD does.

Summary

RLS causes uncomfortable sensations in the legs along with a powerful urge to move them. Symptoms usually occur in the evening, when you’re at rest or in bed.

RLS can make it very difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep, which can have a negative effect on your quality of life. There are medicines to treat RLS, but they don’t help everyone.

CBD is one of hundreds of cannabinoids in cannabis plants. Unlike THC, it doesn’t produce a high. CBD is available in many forms, including chewables, tinctures, and sprays.

It appears that many people have used CBD for symptoms of RLS. And many report that it helps without causing serious side effects.

Unfortunately, CBD for RLS is not well studied. There’s a lack of information regarding proper dosing and the effects of long-term use.

A Word From Verywell

Living with RLS can be challenging, especially if lifestyle changes or medicines aren’t helping. If you’re considering trying CBD, it’s a good idea to speak with a healthcare provider first. Be sure to mention other health conditions you have, as well as any medications and supplements you’re taking.

A healthcare provider or pharmacist can help you decide if CBD is right for you and possibly suggest a starting dose. All CBD products are not alike. If you’re purchasing CBD online, make sure it’s a reliable source and you have access to a COA. And, of course, stay away from products that claim to prevent or cure RLS.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long do the effects of CBD last?

    It varies a lot from person to person. It could be several hours to a full day. Factors such as metabolism, dose, method of administration, and how often you use it all play a role. 

  • What percentage of people with RLS notice improvement with CBD?

    While there are anecdotal reports of improvement and even some of total remission, there’s not enough scientific data to put a number on it.

  • Is CBD safe to take?

    It appears that most people are able to tolerate CBD with minimal side effects. But it’s important to remember that research on dosing, administration, and cumulative effects is in its infancy.

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