Little research is available, but there is some evidence that CBD may help treat restless legs syndrome (RLS). Here’s what to know before using CBD for RLS. Does your restless legs syndrome prevent you from getting proper sleep? If so, then know that CBD has many properties that may help with this condition.
Can CBD Help With Restless Legs Syndrome?
Verywell Health articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and healthcare professionals. These medical reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more.
Nicholas R. Metrus, MD, is a board-certified neurologist and neuro-oncologist. He currently serves at the Glasser Brain Tumor Center in Summit, New Jersey.
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% 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% of respondents said they used CBD to improve sleep or for insomnia, while another 5% 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. : Also known as “whole flower CBD,” it’s almost the same as broad spectrum. However, it can contain up to 0.3% THC.
These products are available in many forms, including:
- Oral tablets and capsules
- Chewables and gummies
- Tinctures, oils, and extracts
- Patches, creams, and lotions
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% were accurately labeled.
- 43% had more CBD than labeled.
- 26% 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:
- Decreased appetite
- Upset stomach
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.
- 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:
or gabapentin enacarbil
If those medications don’t work, opioids may be an option. These may include:
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
Morales P, Hurst DP, Reggio PH. Molecular Targets of the Phytocannabinoids: A Complex Picture. Prog Chem Org Nat Prod. 2017;103:103-131. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-45541-9_4
Bonn-Miller MO, Loflin MJE, Thomas BF, Marcu JP, Hyke T, Vandrey R. Labeling accuracy of cannabidiol extracts sold online. JAMA. 2017;318(17):1708. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.11909
Valdes-Donoso P, Sumner DA, Goldstein R. Costs of cannabis testing compliance: Assessing mandatory testing in the California cannabis market. PLoS One. 2020;15(4):e0232041. Published 2020 Apr 23. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0232041
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By Ann Pietrangelo
Ann Pietrangelo is a freelance writer, health reporter, and author of two books about her personal health experiences.
CBD for Restless Legs Syndrome: Effects & Dosage
Untreated restless legs syndrome (RLS) has consequences that affect your overall quality of life. It prevents you from getting restful sleep, which impacts your physical health. It also puts you at risk of developing mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
Medications help control RLS symptoms, but prolonged use of these drugs sometimes has ugly side effects.
CBD, as research studies suggest, has properties that may help control your RLS symptoms and improve your quality of life. It’s also non-psychoactive, non-toxic, and safe.
Read more to know what RLS is, how CBD helps with this neurological disorder, and how to use CBD for restless legs syndrome.
What is Restless Legs Syndrome?
Restless legs syndrome is a type of neurological disorder that causes a painful throbbing, pulling, itching, or electric sensation in the legs. An uncontrollable need to move the legs also accompanies the sensation.
These unpleasant sensations typically occur late in the afternoon or the evening hours but progressively worsen at night when you’re resting or sleeping. The symptoms also often wake you up and prevent you from going back to sleep. Inactivity, prolonged sitting, and stress typically make the symptoms worse, and moving the legs or walking relieves them.
RLS has no known cause, but a 2020 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health suggests that genetics, kidney disease, and an imbalance in the neurotransmitter levels in the brain may be the causative factors .
Health problems like peripheral nerve damage, kidney failure, iron deficiency, and spinal cord problems also increase RLS risks.
How is Restless Legs Syndrome Treated?
If left untreated, RLS will start affecting the quality of your life.
Because you’re not getting enough sleep, you’ll feel exhausted all the time, with your daytime fatigue affecting your activities of daily living. Mood swings, easy irritability, inability to concentrate, poor memory, short attention span, and sleep deprivation may also occur. Sleep deprivation and RLS symptoms will also impact your mental health and may cause anxiety and depression.
The treatment for RLS consists of finding the underlying cause and treating the problem. Once the root cause is treated, there’s usually an improvement in the RLS symptoms.
If no underlying cause was found, then lifestyle modification may be suggested. These include:
- Diet change
- Regular exercise program
- Healthier sleep habits
- Warm baths
- Avoidance of caffeinated beverages
- Smoking or alcohol cessation
Prescription medications may also be given such as:
- Muscle relaxants for muscle cramps and spasms
- Sleep aids for sleep problems
- Painkillers like opioids for severe pain
- Anticonvulsant drugs like gabapentin
- Dopamine agonists like rotigotine and ropinirole
Short-term effects of these drugs may cause nausea, dizziness, and fatigue. However, prolonged use may also result in drug tolerance, in which case you’ll need a higher dose of the same medication or a different medication altogether. Long-term use may also cause worsening of your RLS symptoms.
CBD, on the other hand, is a safe, non-toxic, and non-psychoactive cannabinoid that may be used for RLS. Before we discuss CBD for restless legs syndrome, let’s first go over the role of the endocannabinoid system.
The Endocannabinoid System and Restless Legs Syndrome
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is involved in many physiological functions — from regulating appetite and stress to controlling an abnormal inflammatory response. It consists of three components: the endocannabinoids, the cannabinoid receptors (CB1R and CB2R), and the enzymes that degrade the endocannabinoids.
You’ll find cannabinoid receptors all over the body, including the peripheral tissues. However, the brain and the spinal cord have the most abundant numbers of CB1R. This is why its activation results in the modulation of many physiological functions such as appetite, hunger, fear, memory, stress, anxiety, pain, pleasure, sleep, as well as sensory and motor responses, etc.
The CB2R, on the other hand, is mostly found in the immune system, and its activation results in decreased inflammation.
The main role of the ECS is to make sure there’s a balance among the different chemicals inside the body. Unfortunately, noxious stimuli like pain, infection, or diseases easily disrupt this balance and cause symptoms. If left untreated, this imbalance can contribute to ECS dysfunction.
In RLS, for example, low levels of dopamine in the region of the brain controlling motor movements cause painful muscle spasms and cramps. Iron deficiency also contributes to fatigue, dizziness, and joint pains, which worsen RLS symptoms .
Studies suggest that inflammation caused by chronic health problems also plays a role in the worsening of RLS symptoms. It contributes to abnormal dopamine and iron levels in the brain .
We lack studies that focus on the ECS and RLS, but ECS dysregulation has been implicated in diseases like multiple sclerosis, Huntington’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease . Similar to RLS, these neurological diseases also cause motor problems. Parkinson’s disease, in particular, shares similar features with RLS since they both have abnormal dopamine levels .
According to an issue published in the Brazilian Journal of Psychiatry, patients with Parkinson’s disease respond well to CBD . This effect may be one of the reasons why CBD for restless legs helps.
What are the Effects of CBD for Restless Legs Syndrome?
CBD is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that doesn’t dock very well on the CB1R. However, it binds to several receptors like the serotonin, vanilloid, adenosine, and PPARy receptors to produce its therapeutic effects.
CBD directly stimulates the CB2R though, producing a strong anti-inflammatory response.
Below are the effects CBD may have on RLS symptoms.
CBD for Pain
The classic symptom of RLS is a pain in the legs that get worse at night. It’s often described as throbbing, pulling, crawling pain inside the legs, and some also describe it as an itching and electric pain. The pain becomes severe when resting or sleeping, and an uncontrollable urge to move the legs often temporarily relieves the unpleasant sensation.
CBD produces strong analgesic effects when it binds to the vanilloid, adenosine, and PPARy receptors . These receptors play active roles in controlling pain sensation.
When CBD binds to these receptors, the cells stop secreting pain-generating compounds. They start releasing compounds that counteract the effects of the pain-generating ones. This CBD effect also stimulates the cells to reabsorb the pain-generating chemicals, reducing their levels in the system.
CBD for Inflammation
Low-grade inflammation caused by chronic health problems plays a role in RLS and may contribute to decreased dopamine and iron levels in the brain, fatigue, and chronic widespread pain .
CBD exerts its anti-inflammatory effects through the CB2R, serotonin, vanilloid, PPARy, adenosine, and GPR55 receptors. Activation of these receptors results in apoptosis or cell death of the immune cells. This effectively stops the immune cells from sending signals for more immune cells to the site .
This CBD effect only affects the abnormal immune cells while protecting the healthy cells.
CBD for Muscle Spasms and Cramps
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke notes that more than 80% of individuals suffering from RLS also complain of periodic limb movement of sleep (PLMS). These muscle jerks and spasms typically occur during sleep, with an interval of about 15 to 40 seconds between each involuntary movement .
CBD produces muscle relaxant effects and anticonvulsants through the non-cannabinoid receptors. Their activation prompts the brain cells to slow down their release of excitatory neurotransmitters while increasing their release of inhibitory ones. CBD also allows the endocannabinoids to stay longer in the system by attaching to the enzymes that break them down .
CBD for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
If you’re suffering from RLS, you’re at a higher risk of developing chronic stress as well as depression and anxiety. RLS also makes you more vulnerable to panic disorders .
CBD reduces stress and anxiety, and it also improves symptoms of depression by stabilizing the abnormal neurotransmitter levels in the brain. Again, these CBD effects are through its activation of non-cannabinoid receptors such as the vanilloid and serotonin receptors .
CBD for Sleep
You never get a full, restful sleep when your RLS attacks. The painful sensation keeps you up at night, and the muscle twitches sometimes pull you out of sleep. If left untreated, RLS results in sleep deprivation, which impacts your overall mental and physical well-being.
CBD not only relieves several symptoms associated with RLS but also improves sleep. A study published in The Permanente Journal revealed that CBD improved the duration and quality of sleep in patients with anxiety problems.
CBD for Restless Legs Syndrome
We lack specific studies that focus on CBD for RLS, but one notable study published in Sleep Medicine showed that smoking marijuana and sublingual CBD improved the sleep quality of six patients with RLS .
The study also noted that cannabis use was effective in controlling RLS symptoms. It’s also well-tolerated by the patients.
How to Find the Best CBD Dose for Restless Legs Syndrome?
Unlike other popular supplements in the market, CBD doesn’t have a recommended daily intake. Yes, you’ll see label instructions telling you to take one dropper daily, but the CBD dose it contains may not be the best dose for you. Depending on the total milligrams of CBD in the bottle, one dropper can either be too low or too high.
The best way to find your CBD dose is to follow this simple rule:
- For mild symptoms or low-strength CBD, take 1 mg of CBD per 10 pounds of body weight
- For moderate symptoms or medium-strength CBD, take 3 mg of CBD per 10 pounds of body weight
- For severe symptoms or high-strength CBD, take 6 mg of CBD per 10 pounds of body weight
For example, if you weigh 120 pounds and have mild RLS symptoms, then you need at least 12 mg of CBD (36 mg of CBD for moderate symptoms and 72 mg of CBD for severe symptoms).
Let’s say you bought a 30 mL bottle containing a total of 750 mg of CBD, then divide 750 by 30, and you get 25 mg of CBD per one full dropper. Each dropper contains at least 20 drops, so divide 25 by 20, and you get 1.25 mg of CBD per drop.
Since you need 12 mg of CBD for your mild RLS symptoms, divide 12 by 1.25 and you get 9.6. This means that you need at least 10 drops for symptom control.
You can also buy extra-strength CBD oil for moderate to severe symptoms. It may be a bit pricier, but it will last you a long time.
How to Choose the CBD Product?
Looking for CBD products shouldn’t be difficult. CBD’s popularity has made it readily available in the market. However, this doesn’t mean though that you have to buy the first product you see.
Instead, you should be extra careful when buying CBD to avoid mistakes, especially since there’s the risk of buying illegal and/or substandard CBD products.
When buying CBD, always consider these factors.
CBD Source and Extraction Process
Make sure it’s an organic CBD that is sourced from organically grown plants. This reduces your risk of buying contaminated CBD products since no artificial fertilizers and pesticides were used in growing the plants.
There are many ways to extract CBD, including the use of solvents like ethanol, alcohol, butane, oil, and carbon dioxide. Of these methods, the supercritical CO2 extraction process is, by far, the safest and cleanest method that produces pure, residue-free CBD.
CBD Legal Status
The 2018 Farm Bill legalized industrial hemp . This means that we can now use all the parts of the plant legally, including its leaves, stems, flowers, cannabinoids, extracts, derivatives, isomers, acids, etc., as long as its THC level doesn’t go over 0.3%. Cannabis plants containing more than 0.3% THC are considered marijuana and are illegal under federal laws.
People, regardless of age, have access to hemp-derived CBD products. You don’t need to get a letter of recommendation or a prescription from your doctor. You can simply buy CBD from dispensaries, health stores, and online CBD shops. There’s also no restriction on the amount of hemp-derived CBD products you can possess.
Marijuana-derived CBD products, on the other hand, are only available to people residing in states that legalized marijuana. Some states require patients to register into their medical marijuana program to get a card, while other states don’t. You only have to present a valid ID as proof that you’re of legal age to buy marijuana-derived CBD with higher THC content.
Before buying CBD products, we recommend checking your state’s cannabis laws.
Certificate of Analysis
One of the differentiating factors between a good CBD and a bad CBD product is its COA.
Legitimate CBD producers send samples of their products to certified facilities for laboratory testing. The tests look for contaminants such as heavy metals, toxic residues, residual solvents, harmful microbes, etc. They also check the potency of the products by getting the cannabinoid profile and their concentration.
The COA is proof that the product underwent third-party testing. You’ll see this on the product label and the producer’s website.
Don’t buy CBD products that don’t have COAs. You’re not guaranteed their safety, quality, and potency.
Types of CBD
When choosing CBD products, you’ll encounter the different types of CBD products:
- Pure CBD which has only CBD and no other extra ingredients
- Broad-spectrum CBD which also has other cannabinoids and terpenes
- Full-spectrum CBD which also has THC, in addition to the extra cannabinoids and terpenes
They all help, but with full-spectrum CBD oil, you also benefit from the entourage effect. This is a cannabis phenomenon that states that all the compounds found in the plant (including THC) work together and boost each other’s therapeutic effects.
Forms of CBD
You’ll also encounter different forms of CBD such as sublingual, edible, inhalable, and topical CBD products.
Sublingual and inhalable CBD products give you fast relief since the cannabinoid bypasses the digestive organs and the liver. You’ll feel the effects in under 30mins. However, the effects don’t last as long as edibles.
Edible CBD takes some time before you feel the effects (about 30 minutes to 1.5 hours) since it goes through the digestive system and liver first before joining the blood circulation. However, the effects last longer since the cannabinoid circulates in the body for a longer period.
Topical CBD creams stimulate the cannabinoid receptors found on the skin and help provide immediate relief to muscles and joints.
Once you’ve chosen a CBD product (with consideration of the factors above), the last step is to read reviews. Customer feedback and their experience already tell a lot about the CBD product.
Of course, stay away from CBD products that received more negative than positive reviews.
Is CBD Safe?
CBD is safe and non-toxic . There may be some side effects like eye and mouth dryness or lightheadedness, but these are usually well-tolerated and typically go away in time.
Final Thoughts — Can CBD for Restless Legs Syndrome Help?
Can CBD for restless legs syndrome help control symptoms?
There’s no study yet that purely focuses on CBD for RLS, but other CBD studies show that this non-psychoactive cannabinoid has many properties that relieve RLS symptoms. It helps with unpleasant sensations in the legs, and it also relaxes the muscles. CBD may also help with associated RLS symptoms like sleep loss, increased anxiety, and depression. Moreover, CBD helps control low-grade inflammation, which contributes to the worsening of RLS symptoms.
Are you using CBD for restless legs syndrome? Has it helped with your symptoms? Comment your story below!
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Nina created CFAH.org following the birth of her second child. She was a science and math teacher for 6 years prior to becoming a parent — teaching in schools in White Plains, New York and later in Paterson, New Jersey.