Celebrity Wellness Coach Rena Greenberg Dishes the Secrets of the CBD Industry
Jun 30, 2021 | Save On Cannabis
Rena Greenberg isn’t your typical CBD advocate. Her background isn’t in cannabis cultivation, and in fact she never uses whole-plant cannabis herself. But in recent years, Greenberg has become a leading researcher and proponent of CBD as a therapeutic solution.
For more than 30 years, Greenberg has been developing and promoting wellness programs for celebrities, hospitals, corporations, and everyday people. She has been featured in more than 150 TV and newspaper stories, and you may recognize her from her appearances on programs like Good Morning America and The Doctors Show.
Greenberg’s own wellness journey began in New York City. After years of living the fast-paced NYC life, she suddenly—and without warning—experienced a steep decline in her health and was rushed to the ER. The way she describes it, “It was literally like someone pulled the plug and I lost all my energy. It was just gone. I was flat-lined, and I basically just had to go to bed.”
At just 26 years old, Greenberg was told she had the heart of an 80-year-old. After spending three weeks in the cardiac care unit, she was implanted with a permanent pacemaker. That was when she decided to make an uncompromising commitment to lifelong health and wellness. She studied nutrition, researched different herbs, and gradually restored her own health. And as she witnessed the difference in her own life, she began developing wellness programs for the benefit of others, including one program that was sponsored by over 75 hospitals.
She discovered CBD after being diagnosed with glaucoma. After trying it for herself and delving deeply into the clinical research, she realized that it could provide enormous benefits to her own clients. But as she began looking into the business side of cannabidiol, she was also deeply disturbed by the misleading and even dangerous practices that remain rampant in the CBD industry. As a result, she developed her signature CBD Super Cider and CBD Super Food with the goal of raising the bar for quality and transparency.
We sat down with Rena Greenberg to discuss her journey as a CBD entrepreneur and advocate and to better understand some of the often-shocking industry secrets that can potentially mislead and even harm unsuspecting consumers.
CBD Labels Can Be Very Deceptive
One of Greenberg’s core concerns is the often-misleading nature of CBD labeling. As she observed in our interview, people seek out CBD to address a wide range of debilitating issues, from severe pain to arthritis and even cancer, and it can be devastating for a suffering patient to spend their money on a product only to see zero results due to misleading or even false claims.
CBD isn’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and so there is little accountability for manufacturers who print false information on their labels. In 2020, the FDA tested 102 random samples of CBD oil from different manufacturers and discovered that more than half of the products had significantly more or less cannabidiol than advertised. Eighteen products had less than 80% of the amount of CBD advertised, and 38 had more than 120% of the amount advertised. Many even contained THC despite no indication or warning on the label.
What’s worse, some CBD products don’t list their concentrations at all. This is an especially big problem in the topicals market. Greenberg recalls examining labels with no potency information; the lack of transparency was so shocking that she actually contacted one of the doctors manufacturing the product.
“They said, ‘we’re not required to divulge the level of CBD in the product,’” Greenberg recalls, “which is completely false. Not only should that information be revealed, but there should also be a QR code on the label that takes you directly to it.”
So, as a consumer, how do you avoid getting taken by unscrupulous CBD manufacturers? According to Greenberg, it’s all in the testing protocols. And not only should your products be tested and backed by a certificate of analysis (COA), but the testing should always be conducted by a trusted third-party lab. “We want it to be a reputable lab that is certified and that can actually report back the potency claims on the label. So if the label says 1,000 milligrams of CBD, that third-party analysis needs to show that there’s at least 1,000 milligrams of CBD in that product.”
A quality lab report should confirm all measurable cannabinoid concentrations (like CBD, THC, CBG, and CBN) and terpene concentrations while also testing for heavy metals and other impurities. If a product doesn’t include a certificate of analysis, don’t take the risk.
If You’re Buying CBD on Amazon, It’s Not CBD
Speaking of misleading labels, Greenberg warns CBD shoppers to avoid Amazon. The online retail giant strictly forbids the sale of CBD products, but that hasn’t stopped manufacturers from capitalizing on the trend. Rather than selling CBD outright, some companies are exploiting consumers’ confusion about hemp vs. CBD, promoting hemp seed oil products as though they’re the same thing as CBD oil (they’re not).
CBD and other cannabinoids are extracted from the hemp flowers and leaves; hemp seed oil is extracted from the seeds. Hemp seed oil contains no CBD whatsoever, but some manufacturers will still misleadingly advertise it as providing support for anxiety, sleep, and other conditions commonly associated with CBD.
Hemp seed oil is notable primarily for its high concentrations of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. It has a 3:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 and can provide excellent nutritional support. But that’s about it.
“Hemp seed is a good ingredient,” Greenberg relates. “But it’s not the medicinal part of the plant. The medicinal part of the plant is the flower and the leaf.”
So keep that in mind next time you see hemp seed oil on Amazon or in your local pharmacy.
Just Because Your CBD Is Organic Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Tainted
If you want high-quality CBD, you should always inquire about where it’s grown. Most importantly, if you’re an American buyer, you want to be certain that your CBD comes from U.S.-grown hemp.
As Greenberg notes, it’s not simply a matter of supporting American enterprise. “It’s because we want to make sure that the CBD was grown under strict organic farm regulations. That’s why, truthfully, the only CBD that I will use and pass on to my customers is always going to be Colorado-grown, because Colorado does have very strict farming regulations that farms need to adhere to.”
Colorado has become a national leader in the hemp market thanks in part to the state’s seed certification program, established by the Colorado Department of Agriculture. The program sets stringent criteria for seed quality, ensuring that all seeds are vetted and approved by authorized reviewers in the Colorado Seed Growers Association. All seeds and genetics must be tested to ensure no more than .3% THC. Approved seeds are tagged with a “CDA Approved Certified Seed” label.
Greenberg cites another benefit of Colorado-grown hemp, and it’s one that may surprise a lot of people. Because the agricultural industry in the state is still relatively small, there’s less risk of pesticide drifting.
According to Greenberg, “Even if the farm where you’re getting your CBD is organic, if the farm next door is not, some of those pesticides could drift over onto your CBD plants.”
“Another reason why USA-grown CBD is so essential,” Greenberg adds, “is because cannabis and hemp are extremely absorbent plants. And this means that they can absorb from the soil not only the nutrients, but also any metals, any toxins, and any pesticides, and this can be a huge issue that consumers won’t even be aware of.”
So while the risk of contamination is lower in smaller, well-regulated places like Colorado, it’s still important to have that certificate of analysis to ensure you’re getting a quality product. The COA should confirm that there are no heavy metals or microbes in the final product.
Pain Relief May Require Multiple Types of CBD
When people purchase CBD, they generally opt for a single delivery system, whether it be a tincture, topical, edible, or other product. But a growing number of experts are recommending that you double up on your delivery systems for complete relief. Rena Greenberg is firmly in that camp.
“Let’s say that someone is in physical pain, and they’re using a topical [such as a cream or lotion]. You want to make sure that you have a really high-potency topical. Many people benefit from just putting full-spectrum CBD topically on the areas of the pain, but many people have to use an inside-outside approach, meaning that they put the CBD on topically outside while also taking CBD orally.”
As Greenberg explains, the oral CBD helps to address generalized inflammation, which is so often at the root of chronic and intractable pain. The topical product, at the same time, provides more targeted relief to the affected area. So if you struggle with localized pain and haven’t been successful with CBD oil, the solution may be to pair a high-potency topical with a full-spectrum CBD oil tincture.
CBD for Sleep? Don’t Take it Right Before Bed
Greenberg notes that sleep support is another area where many consumers are failing to use CBD to its fullest potential. The misconception is that people should take CBD right before bed, but in her own work with clients, Greenberg has observed that CBD works particularly well for sleep when it’s taken in small amounts throughout the day, with a final larger dose taken one hour before bed.
Multiple preliminary studies appear to back up Greenberg’s recommendations. In a 2019 case series published in The Permanente Journal, Colorado researchers analyzed anxiety and insomnia sufferers over three months, all of whom were treated exclusively with CBD. Over two-thirds of subjects reported improved sleep within the first few months, and the effects were especially noticeable in subjects whose sleep issues were anxiety-related.
A separate 2017 review of cannabis studies concluded that “cannabidiol (CBD) may have therapeutic potential for the treatment of insomnia.” That same review found that taking CBD oil 60 minutes before sleep may have the best impact on insomnia.
Your CBD Gummies May Be a Waste of Money — And They May Even Be Toxic
Not all CBD delivery systems are created equal. Some, like tinctures and topicals, are commonly the subject of clinical study. Others, like CBD coffee, are the subject of controversy and debate.
And then there are those wildly popular CBD gummies. It seems like every major CBD manufacturer has a line of gummies, but are they actually effective? According to Greenberg, “A gummy is going to be less absorbed than other types of CBD and is not going to be assimilated. It may only have 3% efficacy in the body. The rest is just wasted. So I much more recommend taking CBD sublingually; the liquid is going to be absorbed much better.”
Greenberg’s concerns are well-founded. Multiple studies have examined the effectiveness of CBD edibles like gummies and baked goods, and most were found to have 20% bioavailability at the absolute maximum. In other words, if you consume a 100-milligram gummy, your body might only absorb 20 mg of CBD—sometimes much less.
But the concern, Greenberg notes, doesn’t end with bioavailability. “The other thing about gummies is that, typically, they’re going to have some kind of chemical flavoring that may not only be toxic to the body but could increase cravings for foods that we don’t want to eat.” This, Greenberg adds, can potentially derail people’s weight loss efforts and contribute to unhealthy eating habits.
Worse, these chemicals may not be listed on the label. They could just fall under the bucket ingredient term “natural flavors” and that would be perfectly allowed by the FDA. Greenberg advises against CBD vape oils for largely the same reason. Even though vaping does allow the CBD to get right into the bloodstream, the vape oils are loaded with chemical additives that may do more harm than good. Metals from the vape pen itself could also leach into the vape.
Full-Spectrum Doesn’t Always Mean Full-Spectrum
A lot of experts will tell you to opt for full-spectrum CBD. This means that the product has a “full spectrum” of cannabinoids, including the CBD, CBN, CBG, THCV, and up to .3% THC (not enough to be psychoactive). A full-spectrum product should also contain all of the natural terpenes (aromatic plant oils like pinene, limonene, and myrcene) and flavonoids found in the plant.
But just because a product is labeled “full spectrum” doesn’t mean that it is—at least in the purest sense. As Greenberg notes, a lot of CBD companies don’t actually preserve the original terpenes which are so important for the entourage effect (whereby all of the plant compounds work together for maximum effectiveness).
“For a lot of companies that sell CBD, they might say ‘1,500 milligrams’ and label their product ‘full-spectrum.’ But, a lot of times, these companies are actually using distillate, which means it’s not a true full-spectrum product.”
With CBD distillate, the terpenes are separated from the cannabinoids through a process of heat, pressure, and evaporation. Advocates tout this is as a means of extracting the purest product, but the resulting concentrate may not be as potent. And even if terpenes are added back in, it’s not going to be the same product.
Those plant terpenes are important. Consider that, in clinical studies, pinene has been associated with with focus and alertness, limonene has been associated with anxiety relief, myrcene has been associated with relaxation, and caryophyllene has demonstrated anti-inflammatory and pain-reducing effects. And those are just a few examples.
Rena Greenberg is a passionate advocate of medical-grade—or pharmaceutical-grade—CBD products. But what constitutes medical grade? According to Greenberg, it’s about ensuring that you’re getting a true full-spectrum product.
“It’s the highest quality and the highest potency. And then it’s third-party tested to ensure that the cannabinoids and the terpenes are all in the plant and not just added back in later. So again, the way to determine that is to look at the COA, not just from the actual end product, but from the original bulk material.”
Broad-Spectrum CBD Is Lacking, and CBD Isolate Is a Waste of Money
Besides full-spectrum CBD, you have two main options on the market: broad-spectrum and CBD isolate. Broad-spectrum products are like full-spectrum, but with all traces of THC removed. CBD isolate products contain only cannabidiol, with no other cannabinoids or terpenes present.
While Greenberg recommends full-spectrum CBD as being the most effective, she recognizes that some people have valid concerns about the marginal THC content, particularly when it comes to drug testing.
Even at just 0.3% THC, the compound does accumulate in the bloodstream when you’re taking the product regularly. And as a result, it’s possible that conventional drug tests can detect the resulting THC metabolites. Broad-spectrum CBD takes care of this problem because it has no THC whatsoever. And while it’s not as “complete” as full-spectrum, it does contain most of the complementary compounds like cannabinol, shown in studies to have antibiotic, antiseizure, and anti-inflammatory effects.
Greenberg even offers her own line of broad-spectrum CBD products, but she firmly draws the line at CBD isolate. “Isolate, in my view, is garbage,” she says. “I mean, research has shown that the benefits of isolate are very short, and I’ve seen studies where on a bell-shaped curve, there’s a spike and then an immediate decline. Whereas, for full spectrum, it’s a much, much longer phase of release.”
Studies have shown that too much purity (like what you find in the 99% pure CBD isolate products) can actually be a problem. One study looked at anecdotal information from clinicians using full-spectrum cannabis extracts for various forms of epilepsy. The researchers found that patients using full-spectrum products had much greater improvements in seizure frequency than patients treated with Epidiolex, a 97% pure CBD extract. One meta-analysis examining 670 patients found that CBD-dominant cannabis extracts helped 71% of patients to see improvement, as opposed to only 36% of patients treated with purified CBD.
CBD Is Expensive Because It’s Expensive to Make — But Not for the Reasons You Think
One common complaint about CBD is the cost. A 30mL bottle of CBD oil can easily run north of $50 and sometimes well over $100 depending on the concentration. To some extent, the high cost is understandable. It takes a lot of hemp to extract a small amount of CBD, and the cultivation is extremely complex. But there are specific factors that play into the cost that most consumers aren’t even aware of.
According to Greenberg, “For high-quality CBD, the farm where the CBD is being produced and cultivated needs to have a full-time geneticist [an investment of about $80,000 per year on average].” Why? Because the hemp has to be cultivated using only the female plant seedlings. Female plants produce much greater concentrations of cannabinoids, and the cannabinoids are much stronger. Cross-pollination with male genetics can lead to the growth of inferior plants and potentially ruin entire batches. In addition, males will propagate the female plants with more seeds, which are great for making hemp seed oil but useless for CBD.
And then there is the cost of organic production. Producing CBD according to the highest-quality farming regulations requires USDA oversight, repeated testing, costly equipment, and certified seeds. As Greenberg notes, the cost of producing organic CBD can be two to three times higher than the cost of producing basic or synthetic CBD products.
As an example, let’s consider a 10-acre farm capable of harvesting 1,425 lbs. of dried hemp per acre. The following are just some of the costs that the farm might expect to incur for an average harvest:
- Transplants: $60,000
- Labor: $50,000
- Drying Barn: $6,000
- Irrigation System: $4,500
- Soil Testing: $4,200
- Daily Irrigation: $3,700
- Weed Control: $3,000
- Testing & Inspection: $2,200
- Rent: $1,000
- Drying Materials: $500
When you add up these costs along with the other associated costs like security, transportation, and machine operational cost, the total price can easily exceed $15,000 per acre or $150,000 for a 10-acre farm—and that’s just for one harvest.
For CBD, “Organic” Is More Than Just a Label
If you find a CBD product that’s marketed as “USDA Certified Organic,” it must meet stringent quality guidelines. This is the gold standard for CBD. And Rena Greenberg knows a thing or two about organic cannabidiol, as her CBD Super Cider is one of the first CBD products in the U.S. to carry a USDA Organic Certification.
So what does it mean to be truly organic? According to the USDA, an organic product must be grown or produced without genetically modified organisms, pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, ionizing radiation, or sewage sludge. The USDA currently approves only 10 pesticides, 9 of which are natural biopesticides. A USDA Certified Organic product is one that has been inspected and approved by a government-authorized certifier and has been found to satisfy all USDA requirements.
As Greenberg observes, it’s a very difficult accolade to achieve. “Every step of the way, you’re going to be under scrutiny. The soil is tested, and every ingredient is scrutinized. You need a certificate of analysis for every single ingredient. The whole facility has to be certified organic. So it’s the soil, the farm where the plants are cultivated and grown, the facility, and then every single product that comes out of that facility. At every step of the way, every product is scrutinized and then given permission to use that USDA Certified Organic logo.”
So it basically boils down to this: If you want the best of the best when it comes to CBD, Rena Greenberg recommends that you always look for the following qualities:
- U.S. grown
- USDA Certified Organic
- Full spectrum (not distillate, and certainly not hemp seed oil)
- A bioavailable delivery system (tinctures and topicals work well)
- Backed by a certificate of analysis from a trusted third-party lab
As long as your product meets those criteria, you should enjoy the full benefit that only medical-grade CBD can deliver. From there, it’s all about finding your optimal dosage. Start with a low dose, and increase gradually until you get the desired result.
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