GW Pharmaceuticals has begun testing an experimental cannabinoid drug for epilepsy in humans for the first time.

The UK drugmaker said it has kicked off a Phase I clinical trial of GWP42006, after the drug showed its ability to treat seizures in preclinical models of epilepsy "with significantly fewer side effects than currently approved anti-epileptic drugs".

GW has been working on a preclinical cannabinoid research program in epilepsy with the University of Reading over the last five years, which, it says, has thrown up a number of therapeutic candidates showing anti-epileptic effects. 

GWP42006, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid extracted from specific chemotypes of the cannabis plant, is one of the most promising of these, the firm believes.

"GWP42006 has the potential to become an important advance in the treatment of epilepsy, a condition for which there remains a substantial unmet medical need," commented Stephen Wright, Director of Research and Development at GW.

Ben Whalley, Senior Lecturer in Pharmacology at the Reading School of Pharmacy, also noted that GWP42006 "appears to employ a different mechanism of action to currently available anti-epileptic treatments", setting it aside from treatments already on the market.

Epilepsy is estimated to affect 50 million people worldwide.