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At only 50 years old, Lisa Brennan-Winefield was told she needed a hip replacement. She was a runner, notching three to four miles a few times a week, and loving every second of it. But her hip pain was severe. It got to the point where it hurt to even step onto the sidewalk.
“My mom, who’s 80 now – she was about 75 at the time – was like, ‘You look older than I look,’” said Brennan-Winefield, an Evanston resident.
That’s when her sister Keri Brennan-Descoteaux, an operations consultant and self-proclaimed science geek, suggested she give cannabidiol, more commonly known as CBD, a try.
It took about three weeks for her pain to ease, Brennan-Winefield said. Gradually upping her CBD dose in a tincture every few days, she took the titration process – starting with a low dose and gauging the effects with how she felt – seriously.
Now, at 57, Brennan-Winefield says she lives pain-free. “It did take me a while to find the right dose that worked for my body, she said. “I do have to take it every day, and if I stop taking it, the pain comes back.”
CBD is an active ingredient in marijuana, but CBD doesn’t have enough of the psychoactive ingredient that can get you high. In its usual form, CBD is an oil – a couple of drops that quickly absorb under the tongue. It’s also sold as an extract and in capsules, topical creams, edibles and smokes, though the federal Food and Drug Administration has approved only a single CBD product, the prescription drug Epidiolex, used to treat seizures.
The Brennan sisters said they weren’t happy with the drug-driven direction of the health and wellness industry across the country and decided to do something about it with a product that had worked for them.
When they opened Botanica cbd in June 2018, the store did better than they expected, they said. Despite having to undertake somewhat of a relaunch after punishing pandemic downturns, the sisters are committed to challenging what they see as misinformation about hemp-based products.
Botanica, at 1306 Chicago Ave., is nestled among a photo gallery, hair salon and restaurant, across from a gelato store and a couple of boutique shops lined along Chicago Avenue. Its urban-chic minimalist interior means it’s often mistaken for a plant store, the sisters said. They said they wanted the space to reflect the carefully researched and curated hemp products on their shelves.
“At the very beginning, all the [CBD] shops seemed like head shops. It wasn’t treated like this natural remedy that it should have been treated as,” Brennan-Winefield said. “As we did more research, we were like, we could do this in such a way that people our own age would be comfortable walking in the shop and asking questions.”
The sisters chose to put their store in Evanston because of the city’s progressive spirit and relative affluence, said Brennan-Descoteaux, who lives in Geneva. They said despite the lack of information about CBD that often feeds into a negative stigma, the neighborhood was receptive to the store’s opening.
“We really wanted to address the stigma through education,” Brennan-Winefield said. “We spend a lot of time teaching people about what CBD is and what are the different terms and what’s the difference between CBD and marijuana and how it actually works in your body, and trying not to make any wild claims.”
This is not the first time the Brennan sisters have built a business together. They previously ran an antique store together in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. “[We] had several businesses, all of which we had so much fun doing, but none of which made us any money. We were thrilled that we finally stumbled upon something that really worked, and we were doing well,” Brennan-Winefield said.
But the pandemic hit Botanica hard. Its sales are still only about half of what they were, and so their main goal for this year is to ramp them back up to pre-pandemic levels. They tabled their brick-and-mortar expansion plans in other Chicago-area locations and are focusing on their online delivery service while revamping the store’s website.
With one’s analytical and operations-oriented mind and the other’s expertise in management, the pair’s opposite skills complement each other. “Keri and I are both creative thinkers. We had to be malleable and learn how to pivot and learn how to adjust,” Brennan-Winefield said.
The tricky thing with CBD products is their price tags, Brennan-Descoteaux said. A bottle of CBD oil the size of a finger could cost from $30 to more than $200. And it isn’t covered by insurance.
Some research suggests CBD could ease symptoms related to everything from muscle and joint pain to sleep issues, anxiety and autoimmune disease. But the U.S. Food & Drug Administration is cautious and its website warns, “Some CBD products are being marketed with unproven medical claims and are of unknown quality.” Botanica is careful not to make claims about the efficacy of CBD in treating, curing or preventing ailments.
Taking the lessons they learned from the pandemic, the Brennan sisters are hopeful the business environment will get better. And they continue to offer CBD information for those living with a variety of chronic pain.
“I’ve had people cry in the store. That’s a frequent occurrence, that people are just worn out with pain or anxiety or a family member’s pain,” Brennan-Winefield said. “A lot of our customers have become friends. … It’s been a really nice community.”