Updated on January 3, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Richard Koffler, MD, Board Certified Physiatrist
When you have restless legs syndrome (RLS), you experience twitchiness and tingling in your legs that usually happens at night. RLS is often considered a sleep disorder due to its tendency to interrupt a good night’s rest. Patients who have RLS often report difficulty sleeping and drowsiness during the day.
Some strains of cannabis and types of medical marijuana products have a sedative effect. So, you can use medicinal cannabis as an alternative to sleep medication, which can be addictive and ineffective. We also have evidence suggesting that marijuana could relieve the tingling feeling associated with RLS.
Sleep medications and other treatments for RLS don’t always work well for patients with this condition. So, Ghorayeb et al. took an interest in testing medical marijuana’s ability to relieve RLS symptoms. As the first medical cannabis study focusing on RLS, the data they gathered could change the way we view the disorder.
The team received reports from six RLS patients who used cannabis medicine to improve sleep. These subjects had tried standard RLS treatments like dopamine agonists and opioids to no avail. In fact, two of the patients developed binge-eating and compulsive shopping habits due to their prescription medication.
All six subjects had their symptoms completely relieved by medicinal cannabis. Five smoked marijuana to treat their RLS successfully, and the sixth participant only had to take CBD to find the relief they needed. While this study had a small sample size, it opened up the opportunity for further investigation.
Plenty of studies focus on cannabis’ ability to help you sleep. But, not as many also investigate whether it can let you wake up without feeling drowsy. Nicholson et al. sought to do just that by examining THC and CBD’s effects on the sleep and wake patterns of young adults.
So, they conducted a crossover study where eight young adults tried four different treatments. Three of the treatments included cannabinoids, while the fourth was a placebo. The team used patient reports and sleep scans to determine how well the subjects slept, as well as how sleepy they felt in the morning.
When the subjects took a combination of 15mg THC and 15mg CBD, they experienced a better combination of sedation and wakefulness than they did with a lower combined dose or either cannabinoid on its own. The THC seemed to counteract any grogginess caused by CBD. Taking CBD at night and THC in the morning could perhaps maximize the benefits.
Farabi et al. wanted to expand on previous research showing medical cannabis helped patients with sleep apnea get better rest. They decided to investigate how dronabinol, a THC solution, affected the electroencephalogram (EEG) markers of sleep apnea patients.
Seventeen patients participated in the study, with 15 of them included in the final analysis. Over the course of three weeks, they received dronabinol doses that increased according to their tolerance of the drug. Throughout this period, the team conducted EEG scans every seven days, conducting tests on days seven, 14 and 21.
Higher doses of dronabinol caused the patients’ brain waves to shift to delta and theta frequencies, making them feel more rested during the day. Even when their sleep stages and sleep efficiency didn’t change, they still felt more awake in the morning. They also received higher quality sleep in the same amount of time as they usually slept.
Marijuana medicine works as a safe, effective alternative to sleep medication and painkillers. It could help you get a better night’s rest without the risks associated with pharmaceuticals. Check out our comprehensive guide to RLS to learn more about your condition and get in touch with a marijuana-friendly doctor near you today.