Can Cannabis or CBD Ease Restless Leg Syndrome?

Medically reviewed by Dr. Brian Kessler, MD

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Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a medical condition characterized by the strong urge to move one’s legs and sometimes arms. RLS, referred to medically as Willis-Ekbom disease, can cause an individual to feel like they need to move their legs and can cause their legs to move involuntarily when sleeping, leading to problems getting to and staying asleep. 

Restless leg syndrome is considered harmless in most cases, and an estimated 10% of Americans suffer from RLS in some capacity. However, in more extreme cases, RLS can cause serious disruptions in a person’s life, mostly by disrupting sleep. RLS can also be a sign of a larger underlying medical condition.

What Causes Restless Leg Syndrome?

The causes of restless leg syndrome are mostly unknown, though it’s theorized that the problem is brought on by a dopamine imbalance in the brain. 

Some cases of restless leg syndrome have a genetic component. An estimated 92% of RLS patients have a close relative also suffering from the condition. Age is also a factor in developing RLS. While it’s possible for symptoms of RLS to arise at any stage of life, the chance increases with age. 

Restless Leg Syndrome is usually an independent and mostly harmless condition, but it can be brought on by a more serious underlying one. Some of the possible causes of RLS are:

  • Iron deficiency
  • Kidney failure
  • Spinal cord damage or conditions
  • Diabetes
  • Nerve damage
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Depression
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Uremia
  • Dialysis 
  • Pregnancy

Some medications, like antidepressants, can also bring on or make RLS worse. Caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine have all also been shown to worsen RLS symptoms.

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Restless Leg Syndrome Signs & Symptoms

Restless leg syndrome is usually described by patients as an uncomfortable sensation in the legs or arms resulting in the strong urge to move the affected limb(s). 

Patients say that the sensation can feel like a pulling, crawling, creeping, throbbing, burning, or even gnawing feeling. People experiencing RLS report that the sensation diminishes with movement. The urge to move tends to increase later in the day, leading to problems falling asleep and disruptions while asleep. Restless leg syndrome can also cause involuntary leg twitching while asleep.

The full list of RLS symptoms includes:

  • An uncomfortable sensation in the legs or arms
  • The strong urge to move the limbs affected by the sensation
  • Relief from the uncomfortable sensation with movement
  • Increase in the uncomfortable sensation later in the day
  • Involuntary leg movement while asleep
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Disruptions in sleep
  • Daytime tiredness due to lack of sleep

How Cannabis Can Help Alleviate Symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome

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Since the exact causes and underlying mechanisms behind RLS are unknown, it’s uncertain exactly how cannabis can treat restless leg syndrome. 

The primary theory surrounding the ailment is that it’s brought on by irregular dopamine levels. A 2015 review of existing studies revealed that cannabis use may have an effect on dopamine synthesis and release capacity.1 The current working hypothesis, then, is that cannabis helps to balance dopamine levels, thereby alleviating RLS symptoms. 

Even though how cannabis works to treat RLS is largely unknown, there’s a growing body of evidence that it may be an effective treatment. One study conducted with a small sample size did show promising, albeit limited, results. Of the twelve participants, all but one reported relief from cannabis. Most reported an estimated 100% relief. Some also tried CBD and found limited relief.

Another study with a small sample size found that of 15 patients who reported using cannabis to treat symptoms of RLS associated with end-stage kidney disease, 9 found relief.2 They also noted that more than two-thirds of patients that participated in the research would be interested in participating in future research on using cannabis to treat RLS.

A larger sleep study on cannabis use in RLS patients found similar results.3 In this instance, the researchers reviewed the medical charts of 41 patients suffering from restless leg syndrome. Twenty-five of the patients used cannabis medically, and another 8 used it recreationally. Of the 41 total patients, the researchers were able to identify that 12 found relief sleeping, while 4 did not. The researchers weren’t able to determine the rest based solely on their charts. Most relevantly, however, was that out of the 4 patients that were recommended medical cannabis specifically for RLS, 2 (50%) found relief. 

Research is limited on the method of using cannabis medically for RLS, but it appears from the research that is available that the method doesn’t matter much, as long as the cannabinoids are able to reach the brain.

While more research into treating RLS with cannabis is needed, it’s clear that the plant shows promise for relieving chronic symptoms.

Legality and Doctor’s Recommendation

To determine if your state considers restless leg syndrome to be a qualifying condition for medical marijuana, check out our Laws & Regulations section for the medical cannabis rules for your state.

If you find that your state recognizes RLS as a qualifying medical condition, you can seek a doctor’s recommendation to register for your state’s medical marijuana program. 

How NuggMD Can Help

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NuggMD is the nation's leading medical marijuana technology platform, serving patients in 22 states and growing. We’ve connected over 1,000,000 patients with their new medical marijuana doctors face-to-face via our state-of-the-art telemedicine platform. 

We believe that every human being has the right to explore the benefits of medical cannabis and are fully committed to helping each patient explore all of their options in their journey to wellness. For further information on whether you qualify for medical cannabis, select your state.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Cannabis & Restless Leg Syndrome

Which strains are best for restless leg syndrome?

There hasn’t been any research into which strains work best for treating RLS, but there are plenty of patient reports on what works to get some relief and sleep. Many of the strains cited by patients as the best for RLS are indica strains with higher levels of THC or concentrations of the terpene myrcene, which is known for its sleepy effect. RLS patients also find relief from strains high in CBD. Some strains frequently reported to help treat RLS are:

  • Grandaddy Purple
  • Purple Kush
  • ACDC
  • Afghan Kush
  • Charlotte’s Web
  • Harlequin
  • Holy Ghost
  • Cannatonic
  • Stephen Hawking Kush

Which is better for restless leg syndrome: sativa or indica?

Interestingly, the question with RLS doesn’t come down to sativa or indica. The strains most cited by medical cannabis patients for relieving RLS symptoms are strains that help with relaxation and sleep. That can either mean high THC indica strains or balanced strains with a higher CBD content. Both seem to work. The name of the game in treating RLS is getting some sleep. 

Can CBD help with restless leg syndrome?

Possibly. Limited research is available but seems to suggest that cannabis with both CBD and THC works better than CBD alone.


1. Sami, Musa B., Rabiner, Eugenii A., and Sagnik Bhattacharyya. "Does cannabis affect dopaminergic signaling in the human brain? A systematic review of evidence to date." European Neuropsychopharmacology 25, no. 8 (2015): 1201-1224. Accessed May 16, 2023.

2. Samaha, Daniel, et al. “Cannabis Use for Restless Legs Syndrome and Uremic Pruritus in in Patients Treated with Maintenance Dialysis: A Survey.” Canadian Journal of Kidney Health and Disease, vol. 7, Jan. 2020, p. 205435812095494, 10.1177/2054358120954944. Accessed 31 July 2022.

3. ​​Kachechian, Talar, et al. “0559 Prevalence of Cannabis Use in Patients with Restless Leg Syndrome for Symptomatic Relief.” Sleep, vol. 45, no. Supplement_1, 25 May 2022, pp. A246–A247, 10.1093/sleep/zsac079.556. Accessed 21 Nov. 2022.

The information in this article and any included images or charts are for educational purposes only. This information is neither a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional legal advice or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about laws, regulations, or your health, you should always consult with an attorney, physician or other licensed professional.

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