Scientists have gotten one step closer to figuring out what your brain actually looks like on drugs.

Research led by the iHuman Institute of Shanghai Tech University and published last week in the journal Cell revealed that scientists now have their clearest picture ever of the receptor that causes the ‘high’ from cannabis consumption.

While scientists have long known that molecules from THC bind to and activate the receptor known as CB1, they now know it has a three-dimensional crystal structure. This information could prove crucial in gaining a better understanding of how cannabis affects humans, since knowing the shape of the receptor allows scientists to get a better idea of how different molecules bind to it.

"What is important is to understand how different molecules bind to the receptor, how they control the receptor function, and how this can affect different people," said the study’s co-author, Raymond Stevens.

Dr. Mark Ware, the executive director of the Canadian Consortium for the Investigation of Cannabinoids and the director of clinical research at the Alan Edwards pain management unit at the McGill University Health Centre, said the discovery was a "breakthrough."

"Suddenly we've been given the design of the building," he explained. "We can work out ways to get in the building, we know where the windows and doors and stairs are, and we know kind of how the building is structured now."

Both Stevens and Ware said this new knowledge could result in improved drug design, and that it represents a key step in understanding the differences between natural cannabinoids and synthetic cannabinoids. 

"While overdose of THC/marijuana has not been documented, there have been cases of severe and even deadly responses to the ingestion of such synthetic mixtures resulting in federal restrictions by many countries, including the U.S.," reads the study.

The receptor behaves differently with synthetic cannabinoids than it does with natural cannabinoids, said Stevens, despite the fact that synthetic ones are designed to mimic their natural counterparts.

"It remains unclear as to why THC can have such a high safety margin, while the synthetic cannabinoid constituents can prove toxic with varying severity of serious side effects."

h/t CBC, Daily Mail.