Restless Legs Syndrome—characterized by itchiness, creeping feelings and general discomfort in the legs—is a condition that affects approximately 10 percent of the population. RLS or Willis-Ekbom disease sufferers tend to grapple with these sensations by endlessly shifting their legs. The disorder most commonly occurs while the patient is resting and is even classified as a debilitating sleep disorder. Cannabis, whose most common medical use is the treatment of insomnia, has been associated with enhanced sleep for those with Restless Legs Syndrome when conventional pharmaceuticals were no longer effective.
In June, six Restless Legs Syndrome patients were evaluated by French scientists. The patients were all classified as treatment-resistant, meaning that more traditional therapies such as painkillers and even seizure medications were not producing results. After smoking cannabis, all patients reported “total relief of RLS symptoms as well as complete improvement of sleep quality,” notes the study. Patients reported an immediate sense of relief from a few puffs of cannabis and were able to sleep throughout the night.
Studies dating back to the 1970s have documented that tokers fall asleep easier and experience longer and more restful sleep. The key, however, is to refrain from using more cannabis than necessary. Getting stoned before bedtime can lead to oversleeping, grogginess and disruptions in much-needed REM sleep over time. Utilizing small doses of THC or CBD might be a promising way to facilitate sleep for Restless Legs Syndrome sufferers without contributing to the fatigue they are already struggling with.
RLS can develop due to underlying physical and psychological factors. Those with chronic diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson’s, peripheral neuropathy, iron deficiency, anxiety, sleep deprivation and mineral deficiencies are prone to RLS. Bedridden or minimally active patients as well as pregnant women are also prone to developing RLS.
The data shows that while Restless Legs Syndrome is common in both genders, women (who are at an increased risk for sleep disorders) tend to be more affected. Since RLS greatly impacts sleep quality, sufferers generally experience negative impacts on their mood, work performance, concentration and memory, not to mention a decreased immune system and higher rates of illness.
The researchers in the French study remain cautious about hailing cannabis as a Restless Legs Syndrome cure writing, “Robust clinical trials are required to test the adequate profile of the effectiveness and safety of cannabinoids in RLS.” However, its co-author and sleep medicine expert, Dr. Imad Ghorayeb concluded that, “Although I do not recommend the systematic use of cannabis, I would not go against patients with severe and refractory RLS who admit cannabis use.”