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STUDY FINDS SIGNS OF BRAIN CHANGES IN POT SMOKERS

Wednesday, 16 April 2014 06:54 Published in Health & Fitness

NEW YORK (AP) -- A small study of casual marijuana smokers has turned up evidence of changes in the brain, a possible sign of trouble ahead, researchers say.

The young adults who volunteered for the study were not dependent on pot, nor did they show any marijuana-related problems.

"What we think we are seeing here is a very early indication of what becomes a problem later on with prolonged use," things like lack of focus and impaired judgment, said Dr. Hans Breiter, a study author.

Longer-term studies will be needed to see if such brain changes cause any symptoms over time, said Breiter, of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and Massachusetts General Hospital.

Previous studies have shown mixed results in looking for brain changes from marijuana use, perhaps because of differences in the techniques used, he and others noted in Wednesday's issue of the Journal of Neurosciences.

The study is among the first to focus on possible brain effects in recreational pot smokers, said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The federal agency helped pay for the work. She called the work important but preliminary.

The 20 pot users in the study, ages 18 to 25, said they smoked marijuana an average of about four days a week, for an average total of about 11 joints. Half of them smoked fewer than six joints a week. Researchers scanned their brains and compared the results to those of 20 non-users who were matched for age, sex and other traits.

The results showed differences in two brain areas associated with emotion and motivation - the amygdala and the nucleus accumbens. Users showed higher density than non-users, as well as differences in shape of those areas. Both differences were more pronounced in those who reported smoking more marijuana.

Volkow said larger studies are needed to explore whether casual to moderate marijuana use really does cause anatomical brain changes, and if so, whether that leads to any impairment.

The current work doesn't determine whether casual to moderate marijuana use is harmful to the brain, she said.

Murat Yucel of Monash University in Australia, who has studied the brains of marijuana users but didn't participate in the new study, said in an email that the new results suggest "the effects of marijuana can occur much earlier than previously thought." Some of the effect may depend on a person's age when marijuana use starts, he said.

Another brain researcher, Krista Lisdahl of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said her own work has found similar results. "I think the clear message is we see brain alterations before you develop dependence," she said.

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AP Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner in Chicago contributed to this report.

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Online:

Journal: HTTP://WWW.JNEUROSCI.ORG

© 2014 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about ourPRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

END OF NYPD MUSLIM SURVEILLANCE PROGRAM APPLAUDED

Wednesday, 16 April 2014 06:50 Published in National News

NEW YORK (AP) -- Muslim groups and civil liberties advocates applauded the decision by New York Police Department officials to disband a controversial unit that tracked the daily lives of Muslims as part of efforts to detect terrorism threats, but they said there were concerns about whether other problematic practices remained in place.

The Demographics Unit, conceived with the help of a CIA agent working with the NYPD, assembled databases on where Muslims lived, shopped, worked and prayed. Plainclothes officers infiltrated Muslim student groups, put informants in mosques, monitored sermons and catalogued Muslims in New York who adopted new, Americanized surnames. NYPD spokesman Stephen Davis confirmed Tuesday that detectives assigned to the unit had been transferred to other duties within the department's Intelligence Division.

Linda Sarsour, the executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, said she was among a group of advocates at a private meeting last week with police at which the department's new intelligence chief, John Miller, first indicated the unit - renamed the Zone Assessment Unit - wasn't viable. She applauded the decision but said there's still concern about the police use of informants to infiltrate mosques without specific evidence of crime.

"This was definitely a part of the big puzzle that we're trying to get dismantled," Sarsour said. But, she added, "This doesn't necessarily prove to us yet that these very problematic practices are going to end."

Another person at the meeting, Fahd Ahmed, legal and policy director of Desis Rising Up and Moving, called the decision "a small step." He questioned what had happened to the information gathered by the unit.

"The concern wasn't just about the fact that this data was being collected secretly - it was about the fact that this data was being collected at all," he said.

The NYPD's decision to disband the unit was first reported by The New York Times.

An ongoing review of the division by new Police Commissioner William Bratton found that the same information collected by the unit could be better collected through direct contact with community groups, officials said.

In a statement, Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, called the move "a critical step forward in easing tensions between the police and the communities they serve, so that our cops and our citizens can help one another go after the real bad guys."

Since taking office, de Blasio has taken other steps toward changing how the police department operates, like ending the city's appeal of a judge's ruling ordering major reforms to the department's implementation of a controversial street stop policy including the implementation of the first-ever inspector general for the NYPD.

After a series of stories by The Associated Press detailing the extent of the NYPD's surveillance of Muslims, two civil rights lawsuits were filed challenging the activities as unconstitutional because they focused on people's religion, national origin and race.

Former Police Commissioner Ray Kelly had defended the surveillance tactics, saying officers observed legal guidelines while attempting to create an early warning system for terrorism. But in a deposition made public in 2012, an NYPD chief testified that the unit's work had never generated a lead or triggered a terrorism investigation in the previous six years.

In Washington, 34 members of Congress had demanded a federal investigation into the NYPD's actions. Attorney General Eric Holder said he was disturbed by reports about the operations, and the Department of Justice said it was reviewing complaints received from Muslims and their supporters.

The AP's reporting also prompted an investigation by the CIA's inspector general. That internal inquiry concluded that the CIA, which is prohibited from domestic spying, hadn't broken any laws, but it criticized the agency for allowing an officer assigned to the NYPD to operate without sufficient supervision.

The Center for Constitutional Rights in New York and the California-based Muslim Advocates, which represented eight Muslims in a 2012 lawsuit challenging the spying program, welcomed the unit's dismantling but expressed concern it wouldn't stop the surveillance in Muslim communities.

"But nothing in the City's announcement definitively suggests they will put an end to broad surveillance practices, which would continue to be illegal regardless of which department within the NYPD might be engaged in it," they said in a statement.

New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman said police-community relations took a blow from the NYPD unit's broad surveillance of all Muslims, not just people suspected of wrongdoing.

"We hope this means an end to the dragnet approach to policing that has been so harmful to police-community relations and a commitment to going after criminal suspicion, rather than innocent New Yorkers," said Lieberman, whose organization is involved in lawsuits over the practice.

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Associated Press writer Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.

© 2014 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about ourPRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

292 MISSING, 4 DEAD IN SOUTH KOREA FERRY DISASTER

Wednesday, 16 April 2014 06:48 Published in National News

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A ferry carrying 459 people, mostly high school students on an overnight trip to a tourist island, sank off South Korea's southern coast on Wednesday, leaving nearly 300 people missing despite a frantic, hours-long rescue by dozens of ships and helicopters. At least four people were confirmed dead and 55 injured.

The high number of people unaccounted for — likely trapped in the ship or floating in the ocean — raised fears that the death toll could rise drastically, making it one of South Korea's biggest ferry disasters since 1993, when 292 people died.

One student, Lim Hyung-min, told broadcaster YTN after being rescued that he and other students jumped into the ocean wearing life jackets and then swam to a nearby rescue boat.

"As the ferry was shaking and tilting, we all tripped and bumped into each another," Lim said, adding that some people were bleeding. Once he jumped, the ocean "was so cold. ... I was hurrying, thinking that I wanted to live."

Local television stations broadcast live pictures of the ship, Sewol, listing to its side and slowly sinking as passengers jumped out or were winched up by helicopters. At least 87 vessels and 18 aircraft swarmed around the stricken ship. Rescuers clambered over its sides, pulling out passengers wearing orange life jackets. But the ship overturned completely and continued to sink slowly. Within a few hours only its blue-and-white bow stuck out of the water. Very soon, that too disappeared.

Some 160 coast guard and navy divers searched for survivors inside the ship's wreckage a few kilometers (miles) from Byeongpung Island, which is not far from the mainland. The area is about 470 kilometers (290 miles) from Seoul.

Those rescued — wet, stunned and many without shoes — were brought to nearby Jindo Island, where medical teams wrapped them in pink blankets and checked them for injuries before settling them down on the floor of a cavernous gymnasium hall.

The ship had set sail from Incheon, a city in South Korea's northwest and the site of the country's main international airport, on Tuesday night for an overnight, 14-hour journey to the tourist island of Jeju.

Three hours from its destination, the ferry sent a distress call at about 9 a.m. Wednesday after it began listing to one side, according to the Ministry of Security and Public Administration. Officials didn't know what caused it to sink and said the focus was still on rescuing survivors.

Lee Gyeong-og, a vice minister for South Korea's Public Administration and Security Ministry, said 30 crew members, 325 high school students, 15 school teachers and 89 non-student passengers were aboard the ship.

Kang Byung-kyu, a government minister, said two of the dead were a female crew member and a male high school student. He said a third body was also believed to be that of a student. A coast guard officer confirmed a fourth fatality but had no immediate details about it.

Kang said 164 people were rescued, of whom 55 were injured. Officials said 292 people were missing.

Yonhap news agency said the 146-meter (480-foot) -long ship, which travels twice a week between Incheon and Jeju, was built in Japan in 1994 and could carry a maximum of 921 people, 180 vehicles and 152 shipping containers.

The water temperature in the area was about 12 degrees Celsius (54 Fahrenheit), cold enough to cause signs of hypothermia after about 1½ hours of exposure, according to an emergency official who spoke on condition of anonymity citing department rules. Officials said mud on the ocean floor made underwater search operations difficult. Lee, the vice minister, said the ocean is 37 meters (121 feet) deep in the area.

Passenger Kim Seong-mok told YTN that he was certain that many people were trapped inside the ferry as water quickly rushed in and the severe tilt of the vessel kept them from reaching the exits. Some people urged those who couldn't get out to break windows.

Kim said that after having breakfast he felt the ferry tilt and then heard it crash into something. He said the ferry operator made an announcement asking that passengers wait and not move from their places. Kim said he didn't hear any announcement telling passengers to escape.

The students — half of them boys and half girls— are from Danwon High School in Ansan city, which is near Seoul, and were on their way to Jeju island for a four-day trip, according to a relief team set up by Gyeonggi province, which governs the city. There are faster ways to get to Jeju, but some people take the ferry from Incheon because it is cheaper than flying. Many South Korean high schools organize trips for students in their first or second years, and Jeju is a popular destination. The students on the ferry were in their second year, which would make most of them 16 or 17.

At the high school, students were sent home and parents gathered for news about the ferry.

Park Ji-hee, a first-year student, said she saw about a dozen parents crying at the school entrance and many cars and taxis gathered at the gate as she left in the morning.

She said some students in her classroom began to cry as they saw the news on their handsets. Teachers tried to soothe them, saying that the students on the ferry would be fine.

The Maritime Ministry said the two previous deadliest ferry disasters were in 1970 when 323 people drowned and in 1993 when 292 people died.

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