Arbelio “Arby” Barroso never imagined he’d become an addict.
Barroso, 48, was prescribed painkillers after fracturing and dislocating his hip. But he didn’t just get one prescription for Norco. Instead, he had high-dose prescriptions for several drugs. At one point, Barroso was prescribed Percocet, Xanax, Roxicodone and Soma.
“I would just kind of load up on these things because they were pretty easy to get,” he says. “You’re really not going to say no when somebody writes you those kinds of prescriptions.”
Barroso developed an addiction that threatened to tear his life apart. He was arrested in 2010 for carrying all his prescription drugs in one container—something he didn’t know was against the law. He was sentenced to five years of probation, which he eventually violated in September 2013. He went to jail again.
His life was falling to pieces. His friend and business partner at the time told him he had to get clean or else. His wife said she would be done with their marriage if he continued down this path.
“I really wanted to get clean because my wife wanted to leave and I had a young daughter,” he says. “She’s 10 years old now. I had already gone through one divorce and I had another daughter who had seen that part of my life at a very young age. I really didn’t want my second daughter having to see her father like that.”
By October 2013, just one month after his second arrest, Barroso was on the path to sobriety, which he still holds to this day.
He credits his turnaround with a little-known product at the time: CBD.
Barroso’s long and winding struggle with addiction began in 1993, at age 23, when he fractured and dislocated his hip while playing football. The doctors at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, where he was admitted, popped his hip back into place. But they weren’t quite sure what to do next.
“They didn’t want to give me a total hip replacement at the time,” he says. “So that kind of set the tone for the next 20-plus years.”
Within six months of being discharged, Barroso struggled with pain so severe he couldn’t even tie his own shoes. To cope, he relied heavily on prescription painkillers. Fast-forward three years later to 1996: Barroso’s orthopedic surgeon decided it was finally time for him to have a total hip replacement.
Unfortunately, this procedure wasn’t a cure-all. Barroso injured himself again in 2001. The Florida native was athletic prior to these incidents, and losing his mobility weighed heavily on his mental health.
“I went through a lot of post-traumatic stress because I went from being competitive in everything I did to not being able to run, play basketball or do the things I was typically able to do,” he says.
Barroso persisted and went on to found a real estate company. Unfortunately, it didn’t survive the financial crisis of 2008. In 2010, Barroso moved to Colorado to found a cannabis dispensary with a friend. But he struggled to keep this business alive because of the grip his addiction had on him.
“When you have these kinds of addictions, it’s pretty rough because you’re a slave to the pills,” he says. “It’s not like you need to go and see somebody. You have your prescription. But over time, it’s like you can’t live without them. You’re really stuck thinking, I need these with me all of the time.”
In 2012, Barroso and his partner left Colorado. He was going broke. He returned to Florida determined to beat his addiction.
While living in Colorado, Barroso began experimenting with edibles.
“There wasn’t a lot of information on CBD at the time,” Barroso says. “But I knew whatever I was eating in Colorado was taking off that anxiety of me having my meds.”
He connected with Laura Fuentes, 51, his pharmacist at the time and the sister of one of his friends. Barroso told her he thought the CBD component of the edibles had been helping lower the anxiety he felt about having his pills nearby.
Fuentes is a compounding pharmacist, which means she creates personalized forms of medication for her patients. She decided to create an oil for Barroso that contained CBD but not psychoactive THC.
“He was able to get clean with the help of CBD,” Fuentes says. “Because what it does is it makes you not crave that reward.”
Barroso believes the CBD helped him, but that his mindset was just as important. “In my eyes, it was a combination of both things,” he says.
“Because if you really don’t want to get clean, you’re not going to get clean.”
As Barroso began to wean himself off of his prescriptions with the help of Fuentes, he approached her about starting a business together.
“I saw that there was something in the product I was taking that nobody was really talking about,” he says. “Nobody was really talking about hemp or CBD. Nobody was really interested in it. It wasn’t the sexy thing in the room. I told her, ‘Listen, there’s something here. Let’s see if we can make some products.’ ”
Fuentes was hesitant. She was a licensed pharmacist, and taking this route could be risky. And on top of everything, Barroso still wasn’t fully clean yet. “When he came to me and asked me about CBD, I was miserable at my job,” Fuentes says. “I was angry with my boss. If I weren’t angry with my boss, I would have never even considered it because I thought I was happy just being comfortable. And I think that’s one of the most amazing things this journey has taught me: That I’m really not happy with being comfortable. I’m happy struggling, fighting, figuring things out and being put in the hot seat.”
Fuentes trusted her gut, and the duo began creating products. Green Roads incorporated in June 2013. Just months later, in September 2013, Barroso was arrested for the probation violation. He didn’t want Fuentes to know. “I didn’t tell Laura because I was scared that if she found out, she wouldn’t continue—she wouldn’t move forward with this,” Barroso says.
Eventually, Fuentes learned what happened from Barroso’s wife. “I talked to Laura and I told her, ‘If I get out, I’m done,’ ” Barroso says. “‘I promise if you stay that I’ll get clean.’ I got out in October and we haven’t looked back since.”
When Barroso and Fuentes founded Green Roads in 2013, CBD was still a nascent industry. Most people hadn’t even heard of it. At first, the pair struggled to get funding for their business.
“Nobody was willing to spend that kind of money to start something that really wasn’t sexy,” Barroso says.
They persisted in creating products, believing in CBD’s ability to alleviate pain, reduce anxiety and help other people struggling with addiction like Barroso.
“We kept on pushing and kept on pushing,” Barroso says. “We finally got a product formulated where we could actually get it out to a consumer.”
Because they were in Florida and cannabis wasn’t legal there, Barroso says they had to be very careful in creating products. They didn’t want people to get high. That’s why Fuentes—who is now the CEO of Green Roads—initially created a topical, not an ingestible. She gave this topical to friends and family who struggled with things like psoriasis and arthritic pain.
“We started seeing results,” Fuentes says. “In the beginning, it was blind faith. We didn’t sell products. We just gave them out to friends and family. We didn’t really have a company. We didn’t have anything.”
Green Roads officially launched its first product, a 210 mg tincture, at the end of 2014. Barroso went to countless stores pleading for them to carry it. Many were hesitant. But Green Roads persisted. They knew it had the potential for massive success.
And it did. In 2015 they took their product to a cannabis trade show in Colorado and completely sold out of
everything. From there, they immediately started growing Green Roads from their friend and co-founder Danny Perdeck’s garage. Jimmy Tundidor joined on as a fourth co-founder.
Today, Green Roads, which is based in Davie, Florida, is one of the largest privately held CBD companies in the U.S. They have more than 100 employees, and their products are sold in over 10,000 stores. They sell everything from tinctures and edibles to creams and coffee. At the 2018 Cannabis Business Awards, Green Roads was recognized for the year’s best CBD product and Barroso received recognition for CBD advocate of the year.
Green Roads is an exclusive academic research partner of the University of Florida in support of the industrial hemp pilot project, founded in an effort to research and support sustainable hemp growth and management across the state of Florida. In April, the company delivered 50 certified hemp plants—the first in 70 years—into
Florida. According to Barroso, the company’s revenue for 2018 was estimated to be around $45 million.
“Every day, you get up and you either have anxiety or you have stress,” Barroso says. “What are you going to do? Take a Xanax or take a Valium every day? I think there are other ways.”
CBD has had an immense impact on Barroso’s professional life. It has given him financial freedom and a sense of purpose. But he emphasizes the impact he believes it has had on his personal life. Barroso’s mother passed away several years ago, and it meant a lot to him that she could see her son clean before she died.
“My mom saw me sober for a little over half a year, which is important in my life because she suffered when I was going through my issues,” he says. “CBD has allowed me to be who I was before I had my problem with prescription drugs.”