In this Cannabis Creative Blog, I sit down with Sarah Birney, co-founder of Blooming Botanicals, a Michigan-based CBD company. We explore her evolution from caregiver to CBD business owner, why she loves CBD for her own health, and the rise of older cannabis consumers.
In its natural form, CBD is about as perfect of a cannabinoid as you could ask for.
It’s got a plethora of incredible health benefits, it looks, smells, and tastes like regular weed, and it’s non-psychoactive making it ideal for daily use.
After the Hemp Bill passed in 2018, some seedy people (pun intended) got their hands on CBD and did some pretty terrible things to it. We don’t need to get into why gas station CBD is a bad idea, but suffice to say some people were quite disappointed in their CBD experience.
Maybe if they had done their research first, they would have tried Blooming Botanicals and had a totally different experience.
Sarah Birney founded Blooming Botanicals with her husband, Bryan Madle. Run out of Michigan, Blooming Botanicals makes high-quality CBD oil, approaching the cannabinoid with a reverence and appreciation for its healing potential.
Birney’s interest in cannabis was a perfect intersection for her background in the health and wellness space. But her journey with cannabis starts far earlier than her entrepreneurial journey.
Birney grew up in a “caregiver family”, a family that grew cannabis medicinally. She was around the plant from a young age and connected deeply to its healing powers. Cannabis in her household was always a medicine, not a “horrible-terrible-no-good-very-bad-drug.” So after she graduated college, she and her husband decided to start their own caregiving business.
But this was back in 2008 when the cannabis landscape looked very different on a state and national level. For nearly 10 years, Birney and her husband learned to care for the plant in relative silence. They worked two full-time jobs, keeping their day jobs and growing cannabis at night. They stopped growing when they moved abroad.
But once they came back stateside, the idea for Blooming Botanicals dawned and neither of them could let it go. It was a trial-and-error process that took over 6 months to get the formula (and taste) right for their original full-spectrum CBD oil formula. From there, the ideas kept coming.
Blooming Botanicals has leaned into the magic of herbs alongside their cannabinoids, combining CBD and turmeric, black pepper, and lavender (not all in the same bottle). The idea to add terpenes came from Birney’s holistic approach to her own health and it was a risk- she wasn’t sure if other people would be interested in “strange things” for their health. Turns out, they are.
Some customers come to her to deal with their anxiety. But others are dealing with a problem that occurs much later in life – arthritis. Birney says a good number of her clients are older, and turning to CBD to cure aches and pains modern medicine isn’t addressing, or to leave behind NSAIDs. She tells her customers who don’t know what to expect to look for something subtle- the absences of their ailment. She wants to change the shame she sees in many of her patients, both for feeling this way, and for turning to CBD.
Birney knows oils aren’t for everyone, because no cannabis product is, but they’ve worked hard to make it available and enjoyable for a wide variety of cannabis users. From people who also enjoy THC and want a boost to their cannabis routine to someone just starting out with CBD, Blooming Botanicals offers a great tasting product that delivers a powerful boost to your endocannabinoid system.
*Disclaimer: Blooming Botanicals was kind enough to send me a sample of their oils in advance of this conversation. I tried them and loved them. I don’t promote products I don’t personally consume and enjoy.*
What’s one thing a first-time user of CBD should know?
SB: A lot of people think that they’re going to get high, they want to know what they’re supposed to feel. And it’s a kind of a misnomer because there’s no psychoactive effect- but there is an effect. It’s a confusing thing for people to wrap their minds around. I tell them to look for the absence of whatever the reason is they’re coming to me. Instead of looking for “am I feeling high?”, are you having fewer headaches? Are you able to open jars or sleep an extra hour?
Whatever the ailment, look for the absence. I think that helps people to see what they’re going for. We start them small and build up until they find the absence of whatever that thing that was bothering them is.
I have people all the time asked us like, well, do you take the products? I am my best customer! When I get out of my routine, I don’t notice it for one day, but two days or three days go by and I start to feel a little more anxious or I’m having a little bit more back pain or maybe a headache. And that’s when I notice, I haven’t done this for a few days. So, once you get out of it is usually when you notice that ailment was kind of rear its head again.
What do you want customers to get out of an experience with you?
SB: I want them to feel heard. Not that many people in this world listen to other people and hear them out for what’s actually going on with them. Whatever their ailment is, I want to hear about it and say, maybe this is a good avenue for you, maybe something else might be a good avenue.
How does thinking about incorporating cannabis feel to you? It doesn’t really matter what I think, so I want them to feel heard and I want them to feel supported. It can be scary. We have a lot of people who are older that come to us and they are from a different generation. This wasn’t talked about throughout their life, in any positive light. So that’s a scary thing. Meeting people where they’re at and really allowing them to feel like they can trust us is huge.
A lot of people are in a lot of pharmaceuticals, and there’s a lot of side effects and there’s not with this [CBD]. I don’t think it’s about getting rid of those or anything, but maybe having something that could help them without giving them a landslide of side effects is, is just a really beautiful place to get with someone.
What’s something you’re proud of?
SB: Oh my gosh, all of it! My husband and I started this company, and my brother is also a partner in it as well. And it’s us- it’s been us.
I would say the majority of CBD companies are white-labeled, where a couple of big companies make a product and then you get it. Usually, it’s going to be natural flavor, it’s going to look a certain way and you’re going to put your label on it. This is fine because they’re usually quality products, but we wanted to do something different. I’m a very stubborn person and I said, I want something different, something that’s unique to us. I want to add herbs into it, I don’t want to add sugars into it. I want it to be a health product.
So we are the manufacturers. We are doing all the inventory. We’re doing all of the shipping; we’re doing all the marketing or doing all the customer relations. We really are a small business and we really wear every hat. It’s something that we’re really, really proud of.
What are you excited about?
SB: I’m excited about the research being done around terpenes. We just went out to Nevada, and out there they have to list all of their terpenes [on their cannabis products] which I thought was so cool. The conversation really was about terpene out there. We’re here in Michigan and it’s still very much about THC % which I understand. But I think the conversation is starting to turn, and it allows me to look at how we can make these things more bioavailable. The knowledge I have about things like turmeric and black pepper- terpenes work the same way. I think people can start to see why 15% flower makes them feel one way where 30% makes you feel the same way, and terpenes have a lot to do with that. The interpretation of this can help drive whatever feeling you’re looking for.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome?
SB: Being able to be taken seriously as a career. At the very beginning, my husband and I didn’t really tell people that we were caregivers. I mean, our patients, of course, some people knew, but we worked really hard and we grew really amazing medicine and we couldn’t really talk about it. We had to maintain full-time jobs and be full-time caregivers. And that was a lot.
CBD is really helping that space and you know, there are beautiful shops and billboards- it is being accepted. But then you get the regulation piece, that the banks still don’t get it and getting insured is a challenge, and all of these pieces that I think a lot of people may take for granted in other industries, that we just don’t get treated as professionals. It’s outdated. Even when the farm bill went through, I had to provide a lot of education for my bank that I wasn’t selling THC, that I’m selling something that’s federally recognized. I was persistent, I had a lot of phone calls and they gave me the first hemp-approved bank account there. But still, people are having a hard time getting it. Not everyone has the time or the bandwidth to be persistent. And why should they have to call 20 or 30 times to get a simple bank account?
How does sustainability factor into your business?
SB: We’ve kept it very sustainable. You’re just going to get a bottle with a small plastic seal. A lot of wholesalers want a box because it’s easier to put on the shelf, it’s easier to put a sticker on but we get a lot of feedback that people don’t want extra packaging. Our brand is minimal, our aesthetic is minimal, so we’ve kept it really minimal.
I care about the environment. My husband was in sustainable education. It’s a big deal for us, and to have a product-based business, you’re going to have waste. And we had to battle with that and say, what can we do? We can’t not sell a product because we’re selling a product but what can we do outside of that to try and curb the carbon footprint? So that’s where we’ve really directed our energies.
And there are really cool things happening out there. You can get all hundred percent post-consumer recycled boxes and materials. You can get hemp packaging; you can get plastics that they’ve recovered from the oceans. There are options, but they all come with a price. They’re only making so much of it, but I see that coming down. I think it’s starting to get at a really sustainable place just so people don’t have to make that hard, costly choice.
What’s something you think needs to change or end?
SB: This idea that we can only talk about CBD for so long that we have to move on to the next thing. I see it turning from medication to recreational. But medical [cannabis] opens this door, and once you get in, they close the medical door and just focus on it being fun. I really hope we can maintain the medical component of it. There’s a lot of people who need help, and this is helping them. I don’t want to leave them behind.
We’re in the CBD world and the THC world is connected, but also very different. I go to a lot of expos and I sit with the scientists and I try to learn from them. We’ve been doing this for years and we went to one in the spring, and it was basically a Delta-8 conference. We went to a quality talk and we were the only two there. Everyone just wanted to talk about getting high and Delta-8.
What’s your favorite fun fact about cannabis?
SB: We get a lot of people who are like, no, I smoke so I don’t need CBD. But taking CBD can actually lower your tolerance of THC! If you’ve been smoking for 10 years, 20 years, every day, it’s not like it used to be. It can build up to where it’s a normal thing, like coffee. But CBD works differently.
When we have stress and pain or something hard happens, our body releases two enzymes that plug up the endocannabinoid receptor sites. And when you take CBD, it works in kind of a two-phase. It goes through and it actually clears out those enzymes that have maybe been plugging up your system for your entire life. So it clears those out and then phase two is your system can actually take in more of all of these cannabinoids. So if people have been using THC for that long, it can clear them out. And then the THC can be up, you know, more bioavailable in the body as well. So I think that’s a really fun fact that they’re meant to be used together