The Effects of Synthetic Marijuana

Emily Bauer, 17, was left paralyzed, blind and on life support after smoking ‘Spice,’ and her family prepared to say their goodbyes. Less than a year later, she has returned to high school in Cypress, Texas.

Emily Bauer’s family was told in December the teenager would never recognize them again. She had suffered multiple strokes after smoking synthetic marijuana, and a large portion of her brain was damaged. She would be unaware of her surroundings and never regain control of her arms and legs, doctors said.

Nine months later, 17-year-old Emily returned to Cy-Fair High School in Cypress, Texas.

Now she rolls through the hallways with the help of aides who also read materials to her and take her notes. Emily is still partly blind and can no longer read or write, but she spends her mornings in class and afternoons taking steps and working toward recovery in therapy.

Emily’s family believes her near-death experience was caused by synthetic marijuana, a dangerous substance also known as Spice, K2 or fake weed. It contains dried, shredded plant material and a variety of chemical compounds that are supposed to give users a high similar to smoking pot. Fake weed is marketed as a “safe” and “legal” alternative to drugs — although the National Institute on Drug Abuse says it is neither — and is sometimes sold as potpourri or incense at gas stations, head shops and convenience stores.

Emily Bauer, shown here before side effects of smoking “Spice” left her with permanent brain damage, is still partly blind but has come a long way.

The teen had been smoking it daily two weeks before she landed in the hospital, her family told CNN. One day in December 2012 Emily complained of a migraine and went to lie down. She then entered what her sister called a psychotic-like state. She began slurring her words and hallucinating.

Emily was still acting violent 24 hours after smoking the synthetic marijuana, her sister said. Doctors put her in an induced coma and ran tests that showed she had suffered multiple strokes resulting in serious brain damage. They performed emergency brain surgery to drain excess fluid and relieve pressure.

Things looked bleak. Her family took her off life support a few days before she turned 17. But, even without her breathing and feeding tubes, Emily fought back. The next day, she whispered to her mom that she loved her.

“On her 17th birthday, even though she couldn’t move, is blind, and could hardly be aware of what was going on around her, she laughed with us as we made jokes and listened to her soft whisper replies,” her sister, Blake Harrison, wrote for CNN’s iReport.

Emily’s family started a non-profit called Synthetic Awareness for Emily (SAFE), to educate the public of the dangers of fake weed. Tommy Bryant, Emily’s stepfather, told CNN that the family hopes her story will save others.

“I’m trying to get the kids to realize that one bad decision could lead to a lifetime of pain,” he said. “Not just for them, but for their loved ones.”

Related links:
Synthetic Awareness For Emily (SAFE)


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