(CNN) — Hospital staff removed Emily Bauer’s breathing tube and stopped all medication and nourishment at 1:15 p.m. December 16. Only morphine flowed into her body, as the family waited by her side in her final moments.
But the next morning, she was still alive.
“Good morning, I love you,” her mother told Emily as she approached the bed.
A hoarse voice whispered back, “I love you too.”
Emily was back.
Her family said the drug that landed the Cypress, Texas, teenager, then 16, in the ICU two weeks earlier wasn’t bought from a dealer or offered to her at a party. It was a form of synthetic weed packaged as “potpourri” that she and friends bought at a gas station.
At first, her stepfather, Tommy Bryant, said he was “fixing to whip somebody’s ass,” as he thought someone older than 18 bought it for her.
Bryant already knew she used real marijuana occasionally. “It’s not that I condoned it,” he said, adding that he couldn’t follow her around all day. Bryant enforces a strict no-smoking rule in the house, and said that if he ever caught Emily smoking, she’d be grounded.
“Had I thought that there was any chance that she could have been hurt by this stuff, I would have been a lot more vigilant. I had no idea it was so bad,” Bryant said.
“I’d never have thought we’d be in this situation. If she had bought it off the street or from a corner, that’s one thing, but she bought it from convenience store.”
Best known by the street names “Spice” or “K2,” fake weed is an herbal mixture sprayed with chemicals that’s meant to create a high similar to smoking marijuana, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Advertised as a “legal” alternative to weed, it’s often sold as incense or potpourri and in most states, it’s anything but legal.
Synthetic marijuana was linked to 11,406 drug-related emergency department visits in 2010, according to a first-of-its-kind report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. This is when it first started showing up on health providers’ radar, as the Drug Abuse Warning Nework detected a measurable number of emergency visits.
Who wound up in the emergency room the most? Children ages 12 to 17.
The first state laws banning synthetic drugs popped up in 2010. Now at least 41 states — including Texas, where Emily lives — and Puerto Rico have banned them, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Older legislation targeted specific versions of the drug, but the makers of Spice were a step ahead.
“These drug manufacturers slightly change the chemical compound, and it becomes a different substance that’s not covered by the law,” said NCSL policy specialist Alison Lawrence. “That’s why in 2011 and 2012, we saw the states enacting these broader language bans.”