The CBD sisters - Evanston RoundTable

At just 50, Lisa Brennan-Winefield was told she needed a hip replacement. She was a 3-4 mile runner a few times a week and loved every second of it. But her hip pain was severe. It got to the point where it hurt to even step on the sidewalk.

“My mom, who’s 80 now — she was about 75 at the time — said, ‘You look older than me,'” said Brennan-Winefield, a resident of Evanston.

That’s when her sister, Keri Brennan-Descoteaux, business consultant and self-proclaimed science geek, suggested trying cannabidiol, better known as CBD.

Sisters Lisa Brennan-Winefield, left, and Keri Brennan-Descoteaux opened Botanica cbd in June 2018. (Submitted photo)

It took about three weeks for her pain to subside, Brennan-Winefield said. She gradually increased her dose of CBD in a tincture every few days, and took the titration process—starting with a low dose and measuring the effects with how she felt—seriously.

Now, at 57, Brennan-Winefield says she lives pain-free. “It took me a while to find the right dose that works for my body,” she said. “I have to take it every day and when I stop the pain comes back.”

CBD is an active ingredient in marijuana, but CBD doesn’t have enough of the psychoactive ingredient to get you high. In its usual form, CBD is an oil – a few drops that are quickly absorbed under the tongue. It’s also sold as an extract and in capsules, topical creams, edibles, and smoking products, though the federal Food and Drug Administration has approved only one CBD product, the prescription drug Epidiolex, to be 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 was doing better than expected, they said. Although the sisters have had to do something of a reboot after punishing the pandemic downturn, they are committed to challenging what they see as misinformation about hemp-based products.

Botanica, 1306 Chicago Ave., is sandwiched between a photo gallery, hair salon, and restaurant, across from an ice cream shop and a few boutiques along Chicago Avenue in Evanston. Its urban-chic, minimalist interior means it’s often mistaken for a plant shop, the sisters said. They said they wanted the space to reflect the carefully researched and curated hemp products on their shelves.

The sisters said they opened botanica cbd in Evanston because of the town’s progressive spirit and relative prosperity. (submitted photo)

“Right at the beginning, everyone [CBD] Shops looked like head shops. It wasn’t treated like this natural remedy it should have been treated like,” Brennan-Winefield said. “As we researched more, we thought we could do this in a way that would be convenient for people our age to walk into the store and ask questions.”

The sisters chose Evanston because of the town’s progressive spirit and relative prosperity, said Brennan-Descoteaux, who lives in Geneva. They said despite the lack of information about CBD, which often leads to negative stigma, the neighborhood was receptive to opening the store.

“We really wanted to fight the stigma through education,” Brennan-Winefield said. “We spend a lot of time teaching people what CBD is and what the different terms are and what the difference is between CBD and marijuana and how it actually works in your body and try not to make wild claims.”

This isn’t the first time the Brennan sisters have built a business together. They ran an antique store together in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago. “[We] had several trades, all of which we enjoyed so much, but none of them made us any money. We were thrilled that we finally found something that actually worked, and we did it well,” Brennan-Winefield said.

But the pandemic has hit Botanica hard. Sales are still only about half of what they were, so his main goal for this year is to bring them back to pre-pandemic levels. They have laid out their expansion plans for brick-and-mortar stores in other Chicago-area locations and are focusing on their online delivery service while revamping the store’s website.

With the analytical and action-oriented thinking of one and the management know-how of the other, the opposing skills of the couple complement each other. “Keri and I are both creative thinkers. We had to be malleable and learn to twist and adapt,” Brennan-Winefield said.

The difficult thing about CBD products is their price tags, Brennan-Descoteaux said. A finger-sized bottle of CBD oil can range in price from $30 to more than $200. And it’s not covered by insurance.

Keri Brennan-Descoteaux, left, and Kyra Loew work at Botanica cbd, 1306 Chicago Ave. (Photo by Zinya Salfiti)

Some research suggests that CBD may relieve symptoms associated with everything from muscle and joint pain to sleep issues, anxiety, and autoimmune disorders. But the FDA is cautious, and their website warns, “Some CBD products are marketed with unproven medical claims and are of unknown quality.” Botanica is careful not to make any claims about CBD’s effectiveness in treating, curing, or preventing any disease.

With lessons learned from the pandemic, the Brennan sisters hope the business environment will improve. And they continue to offer CBD information for those living with a variety of chronic pains.

“I made people cry in the store. What’s common is that people are simply exhausted by pain or fear or the pain of a family member,” Brennan-Winefield said. “Many of our customers have become friends. … It was a really nice fellowship.”