CBD for Leg Cramp Relief [Oils, Creams, & Topicals]
Those who have endured muscle cramps understand how painful they sometimes are, and how quickly they can sneak up. Cramps can occur in every muscle, and occasionally, they can wake a person up in the middle of the night.
Leg cramps are among the most prevalent and become more frequent when we get older. There is a suggestion that CBD could help alleviate the pain caused by leg cramps, and possibly reduce their frequency. In this article, we outline the symptoms of leg cramps and the conventional treatments that are available. We also look into the science of whether CBD can help with leg cramps.
What Are Leg Cramps?
They are a condition that happens when the leg’s muscles suddenly become painful and tight. The issue predominantly occurs in the calf muscles, although it can also affect the thighs. Those who experience leg cramps tend to have pain and tenderness in the affected area for several hours. It seems as if the majority of cases occur at night.
Muscles in the body have relaxed and contracted states. A muscle is relaxed when all of the fibers are elongated. It contracts when calcium moves into muscle cells, and sodium comes out. When a muscle contracts, its fibers shorten and become tighter. In general, muscles relax and contract without any problems.
However, there are occasions where the contraction is too forceful, and the result is pain in the form of cramping. A leg cramp’s duration ranges from seconds to minutes.
Leg Cramps: What Are the Causes?
There are occasions where a leg cramp happens with no apparent explanation. These are called idiopathic leg cramps. However, there are also secondary leg cramps, which are a potential symptom of a more severe condition. Possible causes of such cramps include:
When a leg cramp occurs, the muscle suddenly contracts and causes pain. This is called a spasm, and the affected individual is unable to control the muscle. It is only when the spasm passes that the person can regain control of the muscle.
There are a couple of occasions where the leg cramp may be a sign of a more serious issue. It is advisable to seek medical attention in either of the following scenarios:
- The cramps continue to cause pain and fail to improve after 10 minutes, despite attempts to move the affected muscle.
- The cramps suddenly occur once you come in contact with a potentially infectious or toxic substance. For instance, a cut contaminated with soil could result in a bacterial infection.
Traditional Leg Cramp Treatments (Not CBD)
Dehydration is a potential cause of leg cramps, so it is essential to drink plenty of fluids each day to help reduce the risk. It is also a good idea to stretch before and after using any muscle for an extended time. Individuals that get leg cramps at night should stretch before bedtime. There is also a possible benefit of performing light exercise, such as pedaling a stationary bike for a few minutes before going to sleep.
Once a leg cramp takes hold, the patient should stretch the muscle in question and rub it to relax. An individual with a calf cramp should put their weight on the cramped leg and bend the knee a little. Those unable to stand should sit on a chair, or the floor with their leg extended.
It is also worth trying to apply a hot towel on tight muscles. A warm bath or hot shower could also provide a semblance of relief. Some people find that massaging the muscle with an ice pack helps reduce pain.
How Could CBD Help Leg Cramps?
The bodies of mammals have endocannabinoid systems (ECS) that create cannabinoids naturally. The ECS also includes the cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2, which are found throughout the body and brain. Cannabinoids act upon these receptors and help regulate a wide variety of bodily functions.
The cannabinoids found in marijuana and hemp, such as THC and CBD, mimic the effects of the endocannabinoids produced naturally by the body. While THC has a direct impact on CB receptors, CBD works a little differently. Rather than directly triggering the CB1 and CB2 receptors, it modifies the ability of these receptors to bind to cannabinoids. CBD seemingly increases the capabilities of the ECS.
Consuming CBD may increase the levels of the ‘bliss molecule,’ anandamide, in the body. In turn, our systems use this chemical to:
- Regulate pain sensations. It possibly helps manage the signals sent between the nerves and brain when spasms cause leg cramp pain.
- Reduce the level of inflammation in the body and soothe the damaged area.
- Improve a person’s mood.
Where Is the Scientific Evidence for CBD Helping Leg Cramps?
At present, much of the available research looks into how CBD could help the likely symptoms of conditions such as leg cramps. Pain and muscle spasms are among the two most common reasons why people use medical marijuana and CBD.
A study published in Pharmacology & therapeutics in 2002 looked at the effect of cannabinoids on multiple sclerosis. It found that cannabinoids such as THC and CBD could reduce muscle tremors and spasticity. According to the researchers, this was possibly down to the activation of the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the ECS.
Another study, this time published in the journal, Drugs, in 2014, analyzed the effect of Sativex on patients with moderate to severe spasticity due to MS. Sativex is a pharmaceutical drug that contains THC and CBD at a ratio of close to 1:1.
One group of patients received Sativex for 12 weeks, while another group used a placebo. After 12 weeks, the Sativex using group experienced a significant reduction in spasms and severity of spasticity. These studies suggest that CBD has the potential to reduce the frequency of muscle spasms.
What About Leg Cramp Pain?
CBD could also help with leg cramps by reducing the level of pain experienced. Spasms are an inflammatory response. An inflamed muscle could spasm to draw attention to a problem. CBD may help regulate inflammation and possibly relieve the pain caused by leg cramps.
A study published in Antioxidants in December 2019 looked at the anti-inflammatory and antioxidative properties of CBD. It concluded by saying that the ECS could help modulate oxidative stress in various diseases. As a result, CBD “is a promising molecule for pharmacotherapy.”
The researchers went on to say that the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of CBD have been demonstrated in numerous preclinical models. They also pointed out that cannabidiol is preferable to other phytocannabinoids for this purpose.
Using CBD for Leg Cramp
Those wishing to use CBD for leg cramps have a wide range of consumption methods to choose from. Using CBD oil regularly could help reduce the risk of developing muscle cramps. It remains the most popular form of consumption and continues to offer among the best value for money.
There is a general growing trend towards the use of vaporizers. Proponents suggest that vaping CBD is best because of the high bioavailability. Certainly, someone in the throes of leg cramp pain may welcome the chance to vape CBD. It seemingly provides pain relief faster than other forms of consumption.
The other viable option is to use a CBD topical, such as a cream or balm. Apply to the affected area, and monitor the effects. Reapply a generous amount of the topical as and when necessary.
Final Thoughts on CBD for Leg Cramp
At present, clinical evidence that CBD can help leg cramp is lacking. However, there is early research that indicates the cannabinoid has anti-inflammatory properties. It could also prove useful as a means of reducing the severity and frequency of spasms and cramps. Individuals using OTC or prescription drugs for leg cramps, or any other reason, should discuss CBD use with their physician. This is because of the risk of drug interactions.
The method of consumption will vary according to the needs of the user. Those hoping to alleviate pain quickly may prefer to vape CBD. People looking to help prevent leg cramps might want to try CBD oil. Individuals seeking relief for a more extended period may elect to try a CBD topical.
Whatever your preference, you can view our list of the best CBD products to help you find the top-rated brands in the industry.
Can CBD Help Stop Leg Cramps?
It’s never a pleasant feeling, waking up in the middle of the night to the sharp, sudden tightness of a leg cramp. While cramp may, on the surface, be a minor medical issue, the pain can occur randomly and last for hours, compromising one’s ability to stand or relax.
CBD has been touted as a potential remedy to stop leg cramps, but what does the research say about its usefulness?
While explicit clinical evidence studying leg cramps is lacking, CBD has proven itself a valuable anti-inflammatory. CBD products can indirectly help relieve pain associated with leg cramps and muscle spasms by diminishing the sensation of pain rather than soothing the muscle’s tension. And unlike other muscle relaxants and painkillers, CBD is a natural remedy with virtually zero adverse effects on the body.
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What Causes Leg Cramps?
Leg cramps, also known as muscle fits or spasms, are a sudden, uncontrollable contraction of the muscles in the leg. They predominantly affect the calf muscles, though leg cramps also occur in the thighs and hamstrings.
While sometimes leg cramps happen for no apparent reason (called idiopathic leg cramps), other probable causes of muscle cramps include:
- Long hours of muscle stillness
- Too much muscle strain
- Inadequate stretching before physical exertion
In rare conditions, muscle cramps could be a potential symptom of more severe concerns, such as liver disease or a reaction to a medication. If the cramps continue for longer than 10 minutes despite attempts to unclench the muscle, or they occur after encountering a toxic substance, it’s worth seeking medical attention.
How CBD Helps Relieve Leg Cramps
CBD interacts with the body via the endocannabinoid system (ECS) , which substantially regulates how we experience pain. CB1 and CB2 are spread throughout the brain and body, and the body’s natural endocannabinoids interact with these receptors to maintain homeostasis.
When one consumes CBD oil, the CBD acts on the ECS receptors by modifying how they bind to cannabinoids. In effect, CBD enhances the capacity of the ECS to do its job. It extends the concentration of anandamide , the body’s “bliss” molecule, in the body for longer, allowing it to reduce pain sensations and soothe inflammation in the damaged muscle.
To note: CBD doesn’t bind to CB1 or CB2 receptors in the way THC does. CBD is, in scientific terms, what is known as a non-competitive negative allosteric modulator . Put, CBD dampens or blunts CB1 receptors, making them less receptive to THC and anandamide.
CBD does not intoxicate or produce paranoia via overconsumption like THC does, and it’s virtually impossible to overdo it. You can use as much as needed to get pain relief, and there are a variety of consumption options available for those seeking to use CBD oil for leg cramps.
Vaping CBD oil via a cartridge is perhaps the fastest way to introduce it to the bloodstream via the lungs. Once inhaled, CBD circulates through the body and quickly reaches the pain sensors in the brain, helping to reduce inflammation and anxiety while relaxing the leg muscles.
Dosing CBD oil with sublingual drops is another faster-acting option to attain relief from muscle cramps. Start with a few drops placed under the tongue and swallow after five seconds.
Topicals are another popular option for fast-acting leg cramp relief. With topicals, the CBD interacts directly with the ECS in your skin to provide relief. Massaging the affected area with a CBD oil lotion or gel will quickly ease the pain and last five to six hours from application.
Does cannabidiol have different effects at different dosages? The Biphasic Effects of CBD
Yes, CBD does have different effects at different doses. CBD can have more stimulating effects in low doses (around 20 mg or under). At higher doses (around 40 mg – 50 mg +), CBD has more sedative effects.
By blunting CB1 receptors, CBD can increase the amount of anandamide available in the blood. It has a similar effect when used in combination with THC, where using low to moderate doses of CBD with higher doses of THC can both reduce the “high” of THC and elongate its effects. This is because CB1 receptors aren’t “soaking up,” processing and eventually breaking down the THC/anandamide.
Alternative Ways to Get Relief
Besides CBD, there are other options to achieve relief from leg cramps, though they may not be as fast-acting or effective.
Doctors often prescribe pain relievers or muscle relaxants to address chronic pain and cramps , though they have their share of side effects. Prescription drugs are another alternative, though there is no recommended medication to cure cramps specifically.
Stretching, foam rolling, yoga , massage, or the use of a heating pad may all be valuable tools in releasing the tension in a muscle cramp if CBD oil or painkillers aren’t nearby.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is CBD oil a good muscle relaxant?
CBD oil helps to relax muscles by way of its anti-inflammatory properties. By interacting with the ECS, CBD slows the reuptake of endocannabinoids and allows the body to quickly repair tense muscles and soothe the pain associated with muscle tension.
Does CBD oil help with restless leg or leg cramps?
Yes, CBD oil can help soothe the pain and inflammation that go hand in hand with leg cramps. And while the evidence is lacking, anecdotal reports suggest that CBD also may help calm the spasms associated with restless leg syndrome.
Article written by
Shanti Ryle Content Writer
Shanti Ryle is a content marketer with more than half a decades’ experience writing about cannabis science and culture. Her work has been featured in Forbes, Weedmaps News/Marijuana.com, Wall Street Journal, and other publications.
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