Evan Garcia is quick to praise kratom, a finely ground powder made from the leaves of Mitragyna speciosa, a tropical evergreen tree in Southeast Asia, as a life-saver.

The Colorado Springs native developed an addiction to opiate painkillers around 2009, after two shoulder surgeries thanks to playing high school football. Soon he was buying $100 worth of pills every day. His friends dropped out of his life. His family didn’t talk to him. It wasn’t a good life.

But then a fellow painkiller addict told him about kratom, and how it helped him break free from his addiction.

“When you’re on opiate painkillers or heroin, the government teaches you you can only get off with their medicines,” said Garcia, manager of Laughing Lion Apothecary. “You’re substituting one for the other. I was taught you could only get off pills with methadone or suboxone.”

Garcia found his friend’s experience unbelievable, until the day he couldn’t find any pills. Going through withdrawal, he gave kratom a shot. He was sold. His anxiety ceased, his throat opened and his chills disappeared. He could sleep and eat.

“It made my withdrawal process 80% better or gone,” Garcia said. “I knew I’d stumbled on something I needed to preach. Nowadays I’m active in the recovery community. I go to AA meetings to uplift people. I’m a firm believer there’s a natural solution to every pharmaceutical or drug out there to get you off nasty things.”

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Brandon Medina used the substance as an anxiety reliever to help him leave a stressful environment in Florida and move to the Springs six months ago, where he now works at Laughing Lion. His favorite way to take it is mixed in orange juice, which he sips throughout the day to help him manage anxiety and stay uplifted: “I’ve been taking it for two or three years. I’ll drink about five or six cups of this per day. It’s an habitual thing now, like when people grab coffee. It’s my coffee thing.”

And for Tori Mora, another Laughing Lion employee, kratom capsules help alleviate menstrual cycle cramps and provide the occasional energy boost when she’s feeling tired.

“I cannot take pills,” Mora said. “I’ve lived off children’s medicine my whole life. I took kratom capsules around that time of the month, and I was able to stand up and move and do everything.”