"It used to be the 'in' thing, but I don't think it is any more," said Sharon Allen, a junior at Gaithersburg High School.

"I know a lot of my friends have tried {marijuana} and didn't like it," added her classmate Nissa Christensen. "I think that {teen-agers} are finally realizing what can happen to them. I don't use drugs because I'm afraid of them." Christensen said she was frightened away from drugs after seeing a television commercial that showed an egg burning in a frying pan and a voice saying the egg was someone's brain on drugs.

Allen and Christensen reflect a trend among Montgomery County teen-agers: the use of drugs has declined in recent years, according to a survey of drug and alcohol use among Montgomery County public school adolescents released last week. The survey of 3,700 eighth, 10th and 12th graders indicated that drug use has declined 27 percent compared with five years ago when a similar survey was last conducted.

But while interviews with 15 students last week at Gaithersburg High School and at nearby Lakeforest Mall tended to support the primary survey conclusions, the teen-agers also said they believe the school system study underestimated the extent of drug use.

The confidential survey, which was presented to the Board of Education on Tuesday, questioned students on their experiences with hard drugs, marijuana, cigarettes and alcohol, and found that only 16 percent of the students said they had tried or currently use illicit drugs. Seventy-three percent admitted to using alcohol.

Most students interviewed disputed the 16 percent figure, estimating that half of their peers use drugs or have at least tried them. They agreed, however, with the survey findings that roughly three-quarters of their peers have used alcohol.

The study credited the decline in drug use in part to drug education programs in the health education curriculum. About half of those surveyed said these drug awareness programs persuaded them not to start using drugs or to decrease their drug use, the report said.

Christensen, Allen and others confirmed that these programs, other antidrug campaigns and the media focus on the dangers of drugs have swayed many to stay clear of illegal substances.

Jesse Jackson spoke at Montgomery Village Junior High School three years ago on the dangers of drug abuse and his stirring presentation appeared to persuade many ninth graders not to touch drugs, Allen said. Students also may have cut back on drugs because they fear that dangerous substances have been mixed in with them, she said.

Gaithersburg High School sophmore Heidi Stentz, 15, said she thinks the threat of dirty needles and AIDS has scared many potential users away from hard drugs. "More kids are aware . . . about the harm it causes you," she said. For many youngsters, she said, the pressure not to try drugs is beginning to outweigh the pressure to do so.

Andy Stiles, 18, and Scott Szurek, 17, both recent graduates of Damascus High School, estimated that 50 percent of the students have tried drugs and about 25 percent use drugs regularly. Szurek said students try marijuana, cocaine and "whatever they can get their hands on," such as "whippets," which are inhalants used to add pressure to canned whipped cream. Szurek said he has seen youths buy 200 of them and have a party.

Aside from alcohol, Szurek said he does not use drugs even though he has had the opportunity to do so. "I don't need pot, I have a perfectly good life and I don't feel it is necessary," he said.

Just saying no isn't necessarily all that easy for kids less self-confident than himself, Szurek maintained. Peer pressure, family conflicts, curiosity and rebellion often drive teens to use drugs, students said.

Curiosity and opportunity led two Gaithersburg High School students to try LSD while in California on vacation two months ago. But after the hallucinations and seeing "trails," they decided not to use acid again, according to two 16-year-olds interviewed at Lakeforest Mall.

Both girls said they drink alcohol at parties and have smoked pot about five times since first being introduced to it about four months ago. "I won't get to the point where I'll pay for {drugs}; just once in a while when it's available I'll do it," one girl said.

"You'll be left out of the group if you don't want to get high," said one high school sophomore who also did not want to be identified. Stiles said freshmen are insecure and think that by drinking or using drugs they will be accepted. "They just do it to be in the party. I see that a lot, especially with freshmen," Stiles said.

Escaping family conflicts, ranging from everyday hassles to divorces, is another reason students cite for taking drugs. Adolescents also take drugs to spite their parents in the spirit of rebellion, Stiles said.