Willis-Ekbom disease, also known as restless leg syndrome, is a sensory and motor disorder that produces annoying sensations in the extremities when resting, especially the legs. To alleviate this feeling many people need to move around, causing other complications such as sleep disorders.

This is a fairly common pathology, whose prevalence ranges from 4% to 10%, which affects both men and women of all ages, although with greater incidence in women and the elderly. However, because the symptoms vary greatly depending on the person, it is very difficult to diagnose and recommend effective treatment

[1].

Can medicinal cannabis alleviate the symptoms of restless leg syndrome?

The aforementioned variability in each patient’s symptoms makes investigating an effective therapy complicated. Moreover, if the symptomatology is not very serious, drug use is not always necessary. However, in the case of needing pharmacological treatment, the most common are antiepileptics, opioids and dopaminergic agonists, all of which can be very harmful to health.

In the case of restless leg syndrome, clinical trials on their treatment with cannabinoids are rather scarce. Until recently, most of the information had been obtained through anecdotal experiences of many different patients. According to this, cannabis ingested through food, such as cookies or cakes, was not very effective, while the inhaled plant acted quickly and effectively. However, symptom relief was not very durable, disappearing after an hour or two. It is therefore considered that cannabis was more effective in treating the symptoms of restless leg syndrome that hinder sleep [2].

Alleviation of restless legs syndrome

Despite this lack of studies, the investigations that have been carried out are promising. A recently published study stated that cannabis alleviated the symptoms of the six patients with Willis-Ekbom who participated in it. Five of these patients reported a total disappearance of the symptoms after conducting a cannabis treatment. One, in addition, described a complete relief after consuming cannabidiol (CBD). They also reported significant improvements in quality of sleep after starting the cannabinoid treatment [3].

Other studies suggest that cannabinoids found in cannabis interact with the CB1 and CB2 receptors of the endocannabinoid system to modulate the release of dopamine, which has a very important role in the control of Restless leg syndrome. This regulation of dopamine, thanks to cannabis, has served as a treatment for other symptoms of movement disorders such as Parkinson’s[4], so it is not far-fetched to think that they could also help patients with restless leg syndrome.

References

[1] Poza Aldea, J.J; Sansa Fayos, G; Pujol Sabaté, M; Puertas Cuesta, F.J; Iranzo de Riquer, A; García Borreguero, D. (2013). Síndrome de Piernas Inquietas o enfermedad de Willis-Ekbom. Grupo de estudio de la Sociedad Española de Neurología y la Sociedad Española del Sueño.

[2] Bainbridge, J.; Buchfuhrer, M. (2015). Medical Marijuana and WED/RLS. Nightwalkers, Winter 2015, p.8.

[3] Megelin, T., & Ghorayeb, I. (2017). Cannabis for restless legs syndrome: A report of six patientsSleep Medicine, 36, p.182-183.

[4] de Fonseca, F. R., Gorriti, M. A., Bilbao, A., Escuredo, L., García-segura, L. M., Piomelli, D., & Navarro, M. (2001). Role of the endogenous cannabinoid system as a modulator of dopamine transmission: implications for Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia. Neurotoxicity research, 3(1), 23

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