Can restless legs syndrome (RLS) be treated with medical cannabis?

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a neurological disorder characterized by an irrepressible need to move the legs. This syndrome also known as Willis-Ekbom disease and Wittmaack-Ekbom syndrome, can occur at any age. The symptoms of the disorder tend to worsen during the night, what induce sleep difficulties and significantly impacting quality of life.

Currently, there is no existing treatment for this type of disorders. However, through lifestyle changes and medication, some of the symptoms can be effectively managed. While most RLS symptoms can be alleviated with medication, medical cannabis is also used by some as an effective treatment option. Researchers believe that a large part of cannabis’ success in treating RLS comes from its effects on dopamine. Since RLS is considered, as a neurological disorder stemming from an imbalance in dopamine, it is commonly treated with medications that act on the brain’s ability to produce this neurotransmitter. Similarly, cannabis has been shown to influence dopamine release through its interactions with cellular receptors in the body’s endocannabinoid system.

A 2010 study showed that cannabis had a positive effect on RLS symptoms. This clinical study reported that patients treated with sublingual cannabis, containing THC and CBD, reported an improvement in symptoms in approximately 40-50% of cases. All the patients reported improvements in sleep following cannabis-based treatment.

10 years later, another study shows similar results. This time the inhaled cannabis effect was compared in a group of participants. Five out of six participants reported that their symptoms were in complete remission following cannabis treatment. In parallel, the remaining patient reported significant improvement after consuming only CBD. Once again, the study found that cannabinoids not only worked to relieve daytime symptoms, but also to improve sleep.

In conclusion, the recent studies were able to demonstrate that both the THC and the CBD molecules (known as main cannabinoids present in cannabis), can potentially treat many symptoms of the RLS disorder, while improving the overall quality of the patient’s sleep.



  1. (“Cannabis, Pain, and Sleep: Lessons from Therapeutic Clinical Trials of Sativex®, a Cannabis‐Based Medicine – Russo – 2007 – Chemistry & Biodiversity – Wiley Online Library” n.d.)
  2. (“Cannabis for Restless Legs Syndrome: A Report of Six Patients – PubMed” n.d.)

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