People may be deluded into thinking that synthetic cannabinoids are safe, especially because until recently they were sold at convenience stores next to Twizzlers and Doritos.

But these lab-created mock marijuana products (called K2, Spice or Blaze, among other names) can be dangerous when ingested or smoked. The American Association of Poison Control Centers says it received 4,500 calls related to the use of synthetic pot from 2010 to 2011, according to a report published Monday morning in the journal Pediatrics. The federal government has designated them as Schedule 1 controlled substances, so you can’t buy them at the corner store any more.

The Pediatrics report presents three case studies involving teenagers who were treated in emergency rooms after using synthetic cannabinoids. The teens displayed a variety of scary symptoms, from catatonia and stiffened limbs to excessive sweating, aggression, restlessness and agitation, and inability to speak. All were treated with IV medications, and all recovered after a few hours.

But the report points out that we don’t know the long-term effects these synthetic drugs might have on the brain, particularly the vulnerable, developing teenage brain. The report explains that synthetic cannabinoids were developed in the 1990s by a Clemson University scientist for his research into the way marijuana’s main chemical, THC, works in the brain. Today they’re created by spraying toxic chemicals onto mixtures of plant and herb materials. The drugs are often used along with other substances, such as alcohol and illegal drugs.

Standard toxicology tests can’t detect synthetic cannabinoids, the report notes, because it takes such a tiny amount of these chemicals to induce euphoria and the other effects that mimic those associated with marijuana use --- part of their appeal to young people. Though some testing assays that can detect these substances are commercially available, the authors note, they cost too much for hospitals to use them routinely.

The authors say their goal, in the absence of screening tests, is to bring physicians up to speed about what signs and symptoms suggest a patient may have used synthetic cannabinoids. Wouldn’t hurt parents to read up, either.