Long time Bangalow resident, Jit Chong, is a community pharmacist. In September, he opened The Little Dispensary in Brunswick Heads. It is one of very few pharmacies between Coffs Harbour and the Gold Coast to exclusively dispense medicinal cannabis products. Here he speaks with Christobel Munson.Jit Chong has been a pharmacist for decades – including more than four years working in Bangalow. He has observed some amazing results among clients using medicinal cannabis products since he started dispensing them. “I have witnessed some incredible benefits in using medicinal cannabis in managing chronic pain,” he said. “Using these super safe medicines, some people are able to reduce opiate consumption – or in some cases, even cease opiate use altogether – with hardly any side effects. This is something I’ve never come across in my 22 years as a pharmacist.”

The most common conditions for which medicinal cannabis products are prescribed by a doctor are insomnia, chronic pain, anxiety, pain from cancer treatment, even childhood epilepsy. The website of the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) lists the conditions for which it has approved the use of medicinal cannabis products.

Born in Malaysia – a country with heavy anti-drug policies – Jit trained at Monash University in the 1990s, moving to Bangalow with his family in 2006. When the pharmacist in Brunswick Heads retired six years ago, Jit took over his practice. Once medicinal cannabis products were approved four years ago, he began dispensing them from that pharmacy, finding that, “those years were a good learning curve for me, especially having come from a country where there was so much stigma and misinformation. I was very skeptical at first.”

When a shop around the corner became available, he decided toopen in a separate space called The Little Dispensary, to service local customers and patients exclusively. “The business had grown and it became hard to contain it within the pharmacy. Unlike conventional medications offering, say, standardised pills, it’s quite involved with these products. Because there’s so much stigma and myths surrounding cannabis, you need to be able to provide patients with education and the right information. You need extra time to be able to offer patients proper focus and service. Education is a big part of my work.”

The main form of the mostly Australian-made cannabis products are pre-prepared oils, as well as the buds of cannabis flowers. Using the flower buds comes with a caveat. “We discourage using the buds to roll a joint, but do encourage using a dry herb vapouriser,” he explained. “It gently heats the flower buds, extracting and activating the volatile oil, so that you inhale the vapours. The compounds then get absorbed via the lungs, much like how Ventolin (for asthmatics) gets absorbed. It is a safer and healthier way than combustion.”

The products are vastly different to e-cigarettes, he stresses. “It is not the same as ‘vaping’ because there are no solvents involved.” On the other hand, the oils are administered orally, under the tongue to facilitate quicker absorption before swallowing. There are also capsules or tablets, though not commonly used. (If you were wondering, when the right dose is administered, patients don’t get high or stoned on these products.)

You can’t simply walk into the shop and buy any of these products: a proper screening and a doctor’s prescription is required. All medical cannabis products dispensed via prescription are legal and regulated by the TGA, which, from 1 July 2023, requires those products to meet Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) and the very stringent TGA standards (TGO-93) with regard to quality and pesticide levels, for instance. Again, the TGA website spells out more details, and Jit and his staff are happy to take enquiries.

Jit has spoken at medical conferences on De-Stigmatising Cannabis, including one held at Bangalow’s A&I Hall earlier this year. “There is stigma, and mis-information around how to use these products. At the end of the day, the aim of medical cannabis treatment is that we want to bring balance back to the endo-cannabinoid system, to bring back homeostasis, or the balance of your internal hormonal systems.”

Formerly a florist shop, Jit completely redesigned the shop to suit its new function. A spotted gum counter made by a Possum Creek woodworker is topped with unusual, solid pale green hempcrete. Jit is very happy with the teams he has operating both the pharmacy and the dispensary. “I’m blessed and fortunate to have them,” he says.

For more information on Medicinal Cannabis for consumers refer to the TGA website tga.gov.au