As four teenagers lay in the hospital after eating a toxic weed to try to get high, teachers at Howell Township High School in this small flatlands town found themselves giving unusual drug lectures on Thursday - on the dangers of the wild and plentiful plant, which grows within a block of the school.

Minutes after one such talk, a 16-year-old boy went to the nurse's office, complaining he was not feeling well after having ingested the seeds of the plant, jimson weed, the day before.The five cases underline what appears to be the growing popularity of the weed among teenagers in the area seeking a quick high - whether or not they know of its potentially deadly effects. Howell Police Detective Eric Rice said bags of 100 seeds sell for $5, and teenagers chat about them on the Internet.

Three days ago, the four teen-age boys became critically ill after eating the seeds. Three of them remained in critical condition Thursday at the Jersey Shore Medical Center in nearby Neptune, while the fourth was listed in stable condition.

Hospital officials refused to identify them or discuss their cases. But Dr. Charles Dadzie, head of the pediatric unit, said all were still suffering from hallucinations, rapid heartbeats, periodic seizures and dryness of the mouth.

The boy who was stricken Thursday was also at the hospital, and listed Thursday afternoon in satisfactory condition, with symptoms less severe than the four earlier victims. They include a 13-year-old, two 15-year-olds and a 16-year-old.

Lt. Daniel Cosgrove of the New Jersey State Police said the earlier victims were too incoherent from the effects of the weed to tell police about how they came to ingest it.