Elkhart teen shares story of frightening experience smoking synthetic marijuana

At first the drug seemed safe – despite panic attacks, mood changes and addiction. Then a “bad trip” left 18-year-old Dre vomiting and shaking, blacked out and violent.

Posted on June 21, 2014 at 6:31 a.m.

ELKHART — Dre quit smoking synthetic drugs after a particularly frightening episode — one she can't even remember.

Dre, who asked her last name be held from the story, said she smoked synthetic marijuana two years ago for about three months before her "bad trip."

Dre, 18, and her cousin Jamie, 16, saw synthetic drugs passed around when they were in school, about two years ago. Within Elkhart Memorial High School, the rumors ran saying boys smoked them in the bathroom. A convenience store near the school also sold the drugs.

There were two incidents in which students were caught using or in possession of synthetic drugs at Memorial High School in the 2013-2014 school year, Shawn Hannon, senior director of communication and data for Elkhart Community Schools, said.

"The families came away from the situation pleased we were able to intervene," she said. "Our administrators believe that synthetic marijuana is a very, very serious drug. And we would caution parents that synthetic marijuana doesn't mean it's less dangerous."

It wasn't long before Dre started smoking "fake" as well, even though it wasn't with her friends from school.

Some of her friends from the neighborhood were smoking synthetic drugs, so she eventually gave in to peer pressure.

"When you're doing it, nobody can tell you it's bad, because you'll just end up making excuses to keep smoking it," she said. "'Because it's not smoking cigarettes. Because it's not smoking weed. Because it was legal.'"

Dre never went up to a convenience store to buy synthetic drugs. She knew enough people who smoked it so she would simply take from their stashes.

Back before the drugs were banned in 2011 and before Dre started smoking them, synthetic marijuana had a slightly different appearance, she said.

The drugs, made to resemble marijuana, look like dried up leaves or herbs that can be rolled in a joint or smoked in a glass pipe. Over the years, Dre said she started seeing other items in the packages, some that looked like pieces of foam.

The smell has also distinctively changed, Dre said.

"I remember wanting to smell the bags all the time," she said. "They smelled like blueberry, strawberry or grape. That was even before I smoked (synthetic marijuana.) Now you would recognize it even if you've never been around it."

Dre compares the smell to burning foam or plastic. A smell that seems "toxic for humans," she said.

When she smoked synthetic marijuana, her heart raced and Dre would feel like everything around her was going at a slower pace.

"It made my hands and feet warm, and it makes you feel scared. It's like someone is scaring you," she said. "I heard stuff too, and I know I've done it with people who've said they felt like cartoons."

Jamie tried synthetic marijuana one time, and after smoking it a few times throughout the day she knew she couldn't do it again.

"I was so scared, I thought I was going to die," she said. "Everything seemed really slow and I couldn't move, I just felt stuck."

But Dre continued smoking, despite the smell, the panic attacks and the change of mood.

"I don't know why people get addicted, but you do get addicted," she said.

Lisa, Dre’s mother, said she knew what her daughter was smoking and saw how Dre was changing day after day. 

After a few weeks, Dre moved out of the house. But she kept coming back to steal from her family to feed her addiction. Lisa said she got an alarm system for her home to stop her daughter from trying to break in and steal. 

The last time she smoked synthetic marijuana, Dre said she was in the back yard of friend's house.

She said she remembers smoking some and feeling dizzy.

"I started grabbing my face, and I was hysterical," she said. "I was looking at the sky and saying things like 'the sky is blue!' for no reason."

Her friends told her to stop smoking for that day but she disregarded their suggestions, she said.

"I took one big hit, and after that I don't remember nothing."

At least nothing that was real. Dre said she thinks her mind started filling in the blanks for the time she was "out."

She remembers getting out of a school bus, walking to her friends' house and sitting in their back yard. She remembers two children approaching her and throwing up on her. None of that really happened.

What happened, Dre's friends told her later, was that after she smoked again she fell on her back and started shaking. Dre said her friends told her she started making noises like she was trying to growl, and when they tried to grab her she would try to bite them. When they tried sitting her up Dre vomited.

"When I woke up everybody was like 'What's wrong with you, what did you smoke?'" she said.

Dre didn't go to the hospital. She took a bath and called her family to tell them what she went through.

After that day, Dre tried to smoke again, but her friends were too scared by her last reaction to let her.

"I know I went through some sort of withdrawal. I felt irritable," she said. "And then after a while I didn't want to (smoke it) anymore."

Lisa, talked with her daughter and with Jamie about their experience. At this point, Lisa said, she was just glad her daughter and her niece got away from the drug without graver consequences.

"Thank God they're OK,“ she said.


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