Cannabis sativa L. is possibly one of the oldest plants cultivated by man, but has remained a source of controversy throughout its history. Whether pariah or panacea, this most versatile botanical has provided a mirror to medicine and has pointed the way in the last two decades toward a host of medical challenges from analgesia to weight loss through the discovery of its myriad biochemical attributes and the endocannabinoid system wherein many of its components operate. This study surveys the history of cannabis, its genetics and preparations. A review of cannabis usage in Ancient Egypt will serve as an archetype, while examining first mentions from various Old World cultures and their pertinence for contemporary scientific investigation. Cannabis historians of the past have provided promising clues to potential treatments for a wide array of currently puzzling medical syndromes including chronic pain, spasticity, cancer, seizure disorders, nausea, anorexia, and infectious disease that remain challenges for 21st century medicine. Information gleaned from the history of cannabis administration in its various forms may provide useful points of departure for research into novel delivery techniques and standardization of cannabis-based medicines that will allow their prescription for treatment of these intractable medical conditions.