"In four days' time, we went from thinking everything is going to be OK and we'll put her in drug rehabilitation to now you don't know if she's going to make it," he said.
The doctors at North Cypress Medical Center told the family there was nothing more they could do. She was sent to Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital. Citing patient privacy, doctors at Children's Memorial declined to be interviewed.
No consistency, no way of knowing
Knowing how different people will react to fake weed is impossible. There are a few reasons that explain why.
"You're hearing some pretty bad things with the synthetic cannabinoids -- part of that has to do with the potency. It can be 100 times more potent than marijuana," said U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration spokeswoman Barbara Carreno.
"Anything that was truly a fake pot wouldn't be making your heart race. I've heard of palpitations with marijuana, but not tachycardia."
Carreno explained there's no consistency or quality control from one time to the next. The people making these products can be anyone from a college kid wanting to make extra cash to an operation blending large quantities in a cement mixer, she said. Two batches made by the same person could have different doses.
CNN showed Carreno a picture of the packets of potpourri Emily reportedly used -- the teen's friends gave her family the pouches after the incident. One black wrapper adorned with marijuana leaves reads "KLIMAX potpourri" and both labels read "KUSH TM."
"It's definitely a synthetic cannabinoid," Carreno said after seeing the photo.
The potpourri displays at stores also include a label that reads "not for human consumption."
Carreno called these labels a "cynical attempt" for the distributor to dodge the Controlled Substances Analogue Act, which covers any chemical similar to controlled substances such as cocaine or marijuana. It states that substances mimicking an existing illegal substance, such as marijuana, are also illegal.
"Everything about this is a lie," she said. "They're not potpourri. They're called that as a smoke screen for people naive to drugs and not to admit that it's drugs. But you can see it that they are."
From joy to nightmare
Up until Dec. 13, Emily had been in an induced coma the whole time, said her stepdad. Her only movements were involuntary reflexes.
"Seeing her in the hospital, she was literally just a shell. There was nothing in her eyes. She was just lying there alive minimally," said Harrison.
ICU doctors said some of Emily's blood vessels were starting to open up. Harrison said it was a glimmer of good news that was quickly snatched away: "We all grew overjoyed, little did we know this would become our next nightmare," she wrote on CNN iReport.
The pressure on Emily's brain skyrocketed, she said. Doctors asked to drill a hole in Emily's skull and insert a tube to relieve pressure and drain excess fluid. The family signed off on an emergency surgery.
"The family waited and cried, we had no idea if we would ever see Emily again, but we knew that even if we did, we will never have our old Emily back," Harrison wrote on Dec. 14.
It was a tense hour, but Emily pulled through.
What would Emily want?
A day after the emergency surgery, the Bauer family saw the extent of the damage to Emily's brain.
"We met with Neurology team who showed us Emily's brain images," wrote her mother, Tonya Bauer, in a daily journal on Facebook. "They told us that all white areas on images were dead. It looked to us at least 70 percent of the images were white."
Without the breathing tube, Emily's throat would not be able to stay open, as that part of the brain was dead, her family said.
Doctors painted a bleak picture of Emily's future. She would likely not recognize her family. She would be completely unaware of her surroundings. She would never be able to eat on her own and never regain function of her arms and legs, her family said.
"We were asked to think of what Emily would want. What quality of life would Emily want?" Tonya wrote.
The family decided they would take Emily off life support, just four days before her 17th birthday.
Hurdles to enforcement
One in every nine high school seniors admits to having used fake weed in 2011, according to a national survey by the University of Michigan. Synthetic marijuana is the second-most popular illicit drug they use, behind marijuana.
In July 2012, President Barack Obama signed legislation banning five common chemicals used to make synthetic marijuana and bath salts. And that same month, the DEA seized almost 5 million packets of fake weed in its first national sweep of the drug.
States handle the penalties for drug offenses in lots of different ways and possession has varying definitions, according to NCSL's Lawrence.
Some states, such as Texas, classify synthetic marijuana as Schedule I drugs, which are unsafe, have no medical use and a high potential for abuse.
"They're in line with other states. It's hard to say if there's a middle, but they're similar to other states," Lawrence said.
Each day is a fight
Three days after pulling life support, the Bauer family marked a day they didn't think they would: Emily's 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," wrote Harrison.
"It is my little sister shining through, in every way she can manage, with every ounce of strength."
Each day since has been a fight -- a fight to move a finger, a fight to whisper something to her family, a fight for life, according to her big sister.
"She is in so much pain and confusion, but the family is thankful every single day to still have her alive," she said.
Her stepfather, who has been in Emily's life since he saw her in the delivery room, hopes he can spare other people his family's pain.
"I don't wish this upon anybody at all. When she cries for help and not being able to help her, to have her just lay there. ... She gets depressed because she can't move," he said.