A British drug company aims to test a compound found in cannabis as a treatment for epilepsy, following a promising study using the chemical in rats and mice.

GW Pharmaceuticals said on Thursday that human clinical trials using cannabidivarin (CBDV) could start in 2013 after University of Reading scientists reported the previously little-studied chemical had potential as an anticonvulsant.

CBDV is one of many non-psychoactive cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant and does not cause users to feel ‘high'.

The pre-clinical tests carried out by Ben Whalley and colleagues at Reading found that rats and mice with induced seizures who were given the compound had less severe attacks than those on a placebo. CBDV was also found to work when combined with drugs currently used to control epilepsy.

Nomura Code industry analyst Samir Devani said the data was encouraging but the research was still very early stage.

Experts noted that the rats and mice in the study were made epileptic, which is not how the disease occurs in humans, and positive results in animals often do not translate into similarly good results in people.

Whalley's work was funded by, and performed in collaboration with, GW and its partner Otsuka Pharmaceuticals. The two drug companies have a global alliance on cannabis research.

GW has already commercialized one cannabis-derived drug called Sativex, an under-the-tongue spray that is on the market for treating spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis. Sativex is also in late-stage development for cancer pain.