Hemp oil extracted from the cannabis plant offers “profound and often immediate relief” from chronic neuropathic pain, according to one of the most conclusive studies carried out on the issue so far.

For years, advocates for alternative medical treatments have hailed cannabis’ effectiveness at alleviating chronic neuropathic pain caused by nervous system damage, resulting in a range of conditions such as epilepsy and multiple sclerosis. They say cannabis-based medications could be used in many cases to treat such conditions instead of opioids and opioid-derivatives, which are highly addictive and potentially dangerous: nearly half a million people have died in the US from an overdose involving an opioid in the twenty years leading up to 2018.

The new study, courtesy of researchers from the University of New Mexico and published in the journal Life, used a “chronic neuropathic pain model” to subject mice to pain “equivalent to several years of chronic pain in human clinical patients.”

This allowed researchers to determine the effect of hemp oil on the mice’s sensitivity to pain in an affected area. The results showed that legal cannabis hemp oil “reduced mechanical pain sensitivity 10-fold for several hours in mice with chronic post-operative neuropathic pain.”

This 10-fold reduction in pain sensitivity is hugely significant; comparable with the pain sensitivity of control mice in the study who had experienced no inducement and received no hemp oil.

As Dr. Jacob Miguel Vigil, one of the study’s researchers, put it, the results indicate that hemp oil offers “profound and often immediate relief from symptoms such as pain, anxiety, and depression.”

The study is the first of its kind to measure the therapeutic potential of legal hemp oil with negligible traces of THC, the main psychoactive component of the marijuana plant. The University of New Mexico researchers chose to focus on hemp following the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill by Congress which made cultivation, consumption and sale of hemp legal nationwide. The fact that hemp contains little psychoactive THC, alongside Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s extensive hemp farming interests in his home state of Kentucky, helped ease the bill’s passage into federal law.

“Hemp plants contain numerous therapeutic constituents that likely contribute to analgesic responses, including terpenes and flavonoids, which in theory, work together like members of a symphony, often described as the entourage effect,” said another researcher, Jegason P. Diviant.

Cannabidiol (CBD) oil can also be extracted from the marijuana plant. If the CBD oil is taken from hemp, it is federally legal. Otherwise, it is technically federally prohibited, but most US states now permit some form of medical marijuana, thus permitting cannabis plant-derived CBD oil for the purposes of relieving pain, anxiety and insomnia, among other uses.

While the study’s findings are promising and may herald a long-overdue shift away the from the mass use of opioids and opioid-derivatives for pain relief, the researchers caution that more work is required to look at the long-term impacts of hemp oil consumption for neuropathic pain relief, and that human trials are necessary.

That said, Vigil described the findings and the current momentum towards alternative pain relief treatments as an “extremely exciting time in modern medical discovery because the average citizen now has legal access to a completely natural and effective medication that can be easily and cheaply produced, simply by sticking a seed in the ground and caring for it as you would any other important part of your life.”